Facebook introduces new brand safety tools, but questions persist

Facebook has introduced new brand safety tools aimed at giving advertising partners greater control over where their ads appear, part of its efforts to create what it calls a “quality ecosystem.”

They arrive amid a steady drumbeat of criticism directed towards the social media giant, whose critics claim it has failed to address persistent issues around user and brand safety.

Among the most notable new offerings announced this week are a pair of whitelisting tools enabling advertisers to pre-select publishers and content categories where their ads will appear. Facebook says it is currently testing publisher whitelists for both its Facebook Audience Network and in-stream video ads with select advertisers, with a broader rollout taking place next year.

The world’s largest social network has also introduced a new tool that allows marketers managing multiple campaigns to set filters at the brand level rather than being required to apply them one campaign at a time, and new reporting tools that make it easier for advertisers to determine where ads appeared.

Writing on AdExchanger.com, Sarah Sluis said the tools will require advertisers to choose between brand safety over pricing and scale, thus limiting their appeal to Facebook’s advertisers. But, she noted, “enterprise-level advertisers with high brand-safety standards—including those that pushed Facebook to add whitelists —prize control and transparency over lower costs.”

Facebook also announced a new brand safety partner, Zefr, which will work with existing partners Integral Ad Science and OpenSlate to develop the content level whitelisting tool. According to Facebook, they will “routinely update and adjust” the videos available to advertisers based on what suits their brand.

OpenSlate CEO Mike Henry told AdExchanger that advertisers sensitive to where their ads will run within video content would prefer to develop whitelists rather than “knock out” places where they might appear.

In an interview with CNBC, global VP of marketing solutions Carolyn Everson said that the tools—which augment a series of existing brand safety controls—were introduced in response to advertiser requests, although she seemed to downplay brand concerns.

“Not every advertiser cares about this as much as others. I don’t want to paint a picture that all seven million advertisers are focused on this,” she said. “Some do not utilize these tools at all. They are much more focused on performance and price, and they want their ads to appear in as many places as possible… and we have the other extreme, where advertisers are extremely brand sensitive.”

Facebook is hoping the steps will appeal to brands that continue to have misgivings about the platform, which has been troubled with questionable content and bad actors for much of its existence. In its announcement, Facebook acknowledged that it has room for improvement.

“While we have zero tolerance for harmful content on our platforms, we recognize that doesn’t mean zero occurrence,” it said. “It’s why we are tackling this challenge across the company working with industry, enlisting expertise across subject matters, and continuing to invest in the technology, tools and advancements that advertisers are asking for.”

Facebook had previously given advertisers the ability to create blocklists enabling them to prevent ads from appearing alongside content from specific publisher while ruling out potentially problematic categories, such as “mature” or “debatable social issues.” That approach possessed an inherent flaw, however: Advertisers don’t know what they don’t know, meaning that the approach required constant vigilance.

Earlier this year, Facebook introduced inventory filters that allow advertisers to control placements within Audience Network, in-stream video and Instant Articles, with controls ranging from limited inventory (maximum protection) to full inventory (minimal protection).

Facebook image

The brand safety measures come as the social media giant continues to look for ways to ameliorate continued advertiser fears about unsafe brand environments, and one week after the release of its most recent Community Standards Enforcement Report outlining how it is policing its services in key areas such as hate speech, child exploitation and terrorist propaganda.

Facebook said that it now has more than 35,000 people working on safety and security, and removes billions of fake accounts each year. It said that it continues to invest in technology aimed at detecting false news and other content that violates its policies.

Announcing its progress in curbing instances of child nudity and sexual exploitation, for example, Facebook said that it removed about 11.6 million pieces of content in Q3, and over the last four quarters proactively detected over 99% of the content it removed for violating its policy.

Revenue keeps rising

Yet any advertiser misgivings that may exist have done little to slow Facebook’s seemingly unstoppable momentum.

Kunal Gupta, CEO of Toronto-based publisher technology provider Polar, said that Facebook’s ad business is poised to become a US$100 billion business by 2021. Its rise from $1 billion to $100 billion in advertising revenue required 12 years, he notes, compared to 17 for Google.

“The fact they’ve got so far for so long without having brand safety controls is amazing,” says Gupta. “One in every eight ad dollars goes to Facebook, and they haven’t until now introduced brand safety [measures].”

Gupta recently created a 60-slide deck entitled “Inside Zuck’s brain: Decoding Facebook” which said that mid-market brands—many of which are entering the digital market for the first time—provide more than 50% of Facebook’s revenue. Many of those smaller brands, he says, don’t have the same concerns about brand safety as their larger counterparts. “They care about making their business work and getting sales.”

He dismissed the new tools as mere “background noise” that are unlikely to assuage larger brands’ misgivings about the platform. “Most brands are not happy with their concentration of spend on Facebook, the lack of fixed pricing and the [inability] to use their own data,” he said. “It’s becoming a more and more challenging place for marketers to have control.”




Chris Powell