Ensuring brand safety online

The advertising industry has united in its response to The Times’ investigation into brand safety online, acknowledging that it must work harder in raising awareness of the cross-industry initiatives already in hand to tackle this issue, where the IPA has been at the vanguard.

In addition to the industry repsonse, initiatives and IPA response outlined below, the IPA's legal and public affairs team has put togther a legal alert for it members outlining what agencies can do to protect themselves and their clients against their ads appearing on disreputable websites. Download it here.

The united response is:

Ensuring ads don’t appear alongside inappropriate or illegal content continues to be of the highest priority to all corners of the advertising industry – brands, agencies and media owners. 

There has been real progress made by ISBA, the IPA, IAB and AOP working together in this area in recent years: this issue of brand safety online is one of the very reasons the Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards (JICWEBS) was set up and we have a certification system to tackle this. 

Despite this, it’s clear that more must be done, and quickly, but this can only be a result of the whole eco-system collaborating.

The key industry initiatives are:

  • Setting up independent benchmarking for online trading - JICWEBS

JICWEBS (the Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards in the UK and Ireland) was created by the UK and Ireland media industry to ensure independent development of standards for measuring performance online and benchmarking best practice for online ad trading. The IPA was a founding member of JICWEBS and is one of four current stakeholders along with ISBA, the IAB and AOP.

The rise of real-time bidding (RTB) and, especially, impression-level targeting has had a significant impact on the online advertising trading process. JICWEBS was quick to recognise the need for industry wide, industry agreed, principles to secure a safer environment for online advertising placement.

Verification provides proof that these principles have been applied, which in turn assures advertisers, agencies and media owners with the confidence that they are basing their commercial decisions on an internationally recognised benchmark of transparency.

  • Setting up a cross industry group - Digital Trading Standards Group & Brand Safety - and publishing best practice and awarding recognised seals of approvals

In December 2013 JICWEBS set up the Digital Trading Standard Group, which superseded the ISBA/IPA Online Brand Safety Initiative, and launched its Good Practice Principles to minimise ad misplacement. The group comprises representatives from the IPA, AOP, ISBA and the IAB UK.

Under the UK Good Practice Principles, committed businesses have their advertising misplacement policies and processes verified by an independent third party. In doing so, businesses receive a seal of compliance that advertisers and agencies look for when buying digital display advertising.  The first seals were issued in May, 2014. Current signatories can be found here.

  • Working with the UK Police

City of London / Police Intellectual Crime Unit

The creative industries are already working with the Police through Operation Creative which is a ground-breaking initiative designed to disrupt and prevent websites from providing unauthorised access to copyrighted content, led by the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) in partnership with the creative and advertising industries.

It is a unique partnership between the City of London Police and the UK advertising industry: IPA, ISBA and IAB; and rights holders represented by FACT (Federation Against Copyright Theft), BPI (British Phonographic Industry), IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry), PRS for Music, The Publishers Association and UKIE (The UK Interactive Entertainment Association).

Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Unit

Through our work with City of London Police, the IPA and ISBA were approached by the Met’s counter terrorism unit in August 2014 to support an investigation into online advertising next to terrorist content. This led to educational support for the Met, as well as a coordinated approach to addressing instances of this occurring during the rest of 2014. Any instances were relayed by the IPA to the media agency involved so they could brief their client and address the problem with the media owner/platform involved.

The IPA remains ready to answer any call from UK law enforcement to support relevant police activities.

Says IPA Director General Paul Bainsfair:

“While digital advertising offers brands valuable opportunities to specifically target their consumers, as this latest investigation highlights, the system is by no means perfect.

“If there is a positive angle to this story it is that The Times may have provided the necessary additional grit in the oyster for more awareness of the issues and what still needs to be done.

“We can use this raised awareness to showcase the work we’re doing, and specifically to encourage more companies to demonstrate their commitment to reducing the risk of online ad fraud across our industry by gaining the DTSG certification seal.

On a larger scale, we will use it to galvanise more collaborative, value-based, working relationships between all corners of the industry.”



Last updated 21 January 2022