• New report on reputational problems due to programmatic advertising
  • Fifth of marketers cite ‘trademark infringement or content piracy’ as concern
  • Reveals opportunity for trademark teams to increase marketing collaboration

In a new survey, almost half of senior marketing respondents reported that reputational problems have resulted from advertising being placed alongside offensive or objectionable content. Crucially, a fifth cited ‘trademark infringement or content piracy’ as a primary concern when safeguarding brands online, opening the door for increased collaboration with their trademark colleagues. In terms of the challenges resulting from programmatic advertising, a cross-department approach could be critical to maintaining brand integrity.

According to Zenith Media, programmatic ad spend (ie, advertising software that automatically purchases digital ads, taking into account such metrics as traffic levels – the danger being that it will place ads alongside problematic content) has grown from $5 billion in 2012 to $39 billion in 2016 - an average growth rate of 71% per year.

The Brand Protection From Digital Content Infection: Safeguarding Brand Reputation Through Diligent Ad Channel Selection report, released by The Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council and Dow Jones, draws on an online study of more than 300 senior marketing decision makers, along with perspectives from among the CMO Council’s membership. Its focus is on the impact of programmatic media buying and automated digital advertising placement on brand reputation, consumer perception and customer trust. The results paint a worry picture in terms of brand integrity and trust online. Amongst the headline findings were the following:

  • 72% of brand advertisers engaged in programmatic buying are concerned about brand integrity and control in digital display placement
  • 43% reported reputation problems after a negative adjacency incident
  • 22% had examples of where brand advertising inadvertently supported or adjoined offensive and compromising content, topics or audiences
  • 78% say the top impact of negative adjacency is reputation damage

At first glance, the fallout of programmatic advertising is very much a marketing/advertising function challenge. After all, they will control the ad spend and liaise direct with outside agencies on placement. And in terms of consumer engagement – given that previous research found that that almost half of consumers would rethink purchasing from brands that place adverts alongside offensive or objectionable content – it is an issue that does need to be on their agenda. Positively, while scaling back on a multi-billion pound industry is unlikely, the report notes that many marketers are committed to taking steps to ensure the integrity of digital ad positioning and placement in safe and reputable content environments, whether through the development of digital advertising guidelines for their agency and ad-buying networks (48% or respondents), relying on media-buying firms to better manage and control placements (37%) or developing whitelists of pre-approved publishing channels and reputable content/editorial channels (24%).

As we have argued previously, though, this is an issue that trademark professionals should have on their radar, and engage with marketers on. While the report focused on the placement of ads alongside offensive or objectionable content, a related concern is advertising appearing on sites that promote piracy and counterfeiting. In 2014 we looked at a report from the Digital Citizens Alliance which estimated that, over the previous year, piracy websites generated $227 million from advertising. While industry has sought to highlight the issue (and find solutions), legitimate advertising spend continues to support infringing sites. In short – a company’s advertising dollar can be supporting the very sites that trademark counsel are fighting against.

Interestingly, in terms of the primary concerns in protecting and safeguarding their brand in digital media environments and channels, a fifth cited ‘trademark infringement or content piracy’. Additionally, 7% pointed to cybersquatting and 24% to brand hijacking and phishing. It is worth noting that trademark counsel were not amongst the survey respondents. Instead, 42% were CMOs and 51% had marketing related job titles. Despite the often-cited ‘legal-marketing’ divide, then, it is clear that many marketers are all too aware of the ‘trademark’ challenges that counsel seek to overcome.

In terms of fostering further collaboration, this therefore provides an opportunity to highlight how the two departments can work together – the key message being ‘we can help you tackle the problems that are keeping you up at night’. For those that have not yet engaged marketing on this issue, it highlights the pain points that are worth honing in on when seeking to initiate dialogue.

The report found that, when asked how inadvertent ad association with inappropriate or objectionable content creates headaches for marketers, 78% cited damage to brand reputation and 67% pointed to the undermining of brand values and qualities. These concerns are shared by trademark professionals and a truly collaborative approach to programmatic ad spend may be required to ensure that both teams are not having to dedicate separate resource to common problems of their company’s own making.