How Marketers Can Help Keep Good Ads Off Bad Sites

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When clients invest in a digital advertising strategy, they need to be assured that they're getting exactly what they pay for. Many clients are global brands with reputations that took decades to build, and in an age where trust is everything and reputations can be tarnished in an instant, clients often worry about how and where their ads appear online.

Via purchased inventory on ad networks, sometimes brand advertising unwittingly appears on undesirable websites, such as those devoted to the illegal distribution of pirated movies and TV shows. Sometimes ads that look legitimate are actually Trojan horses carrying malware: hidden, malicious programs that steal valuable information from users' computers or mobile devices. And sometimes, legitimately purchased ads don't get shown on websites at all: instead they appear on sites that will never be viewed by a human, a practice known simply as "ad fraud."

It's imperative to protect brands from these criminal activities by establishing best practices and prioritizing known and safe preferred publishing partners for our clients' investments.

Each of these hazards can hurt a brand, either by reducing the effectiveness of an ad buy or by associating a brand with illegal conduct. And they hurt consumers as well, by threatening their cyber and financial security through malware and funding criminal activity. Ad-supported pirate sites also harm the creative economy, by distributing illegal copies of films and TV programs, music and books, making it more difficult for thousands of creatives to earn a living.

To combat these threats, GroupM worked with partners across the advertising, media, and internet industries to establish a first-of-its-kind accountability program aimed at ensuring the integrity of the digital ad supply chain.

The resulting Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) defines its mission simply: to promote brand integrity and to promote brand safety through greater transparency and accountability.

One way a brand can signal its support for TAG's underlying principles is to take the TAG Pledge -- a commitment that the brand will take reasonable steps to avoid having its ads appear on pirate sites. The pledge marks an important first step to demonstrating a brand's awareness of the challenges facing the online ad ecosystem, and by extension, harm to consumers and the creatives whose works are distributed illegally on pirate sites.

When a brand takes the TAG pledge, it is immediately supported by an infrastructure committed to improving the consumer experience by bringing new standards of accountability to the digital advertising economy. When a company chooses to sign the pledge, it is making it clear that it is looking out for its customers and taking the necessary measures to help halt the flow of money to websites that support piracy. It's why GroupM, and dozens of other major ad agencies and advertisers, have signed on.

It's also why we support CreativeFuture's "Follow the Money" campaign to keep good ads off bad sites. In collaboration with TAG, CreativeFuture informs brands and agencies when their ads appear on pirate sites and provides guidance on how they can be eliminated. Because their reputation is at stake, most brands are immediately responsive because they don't want to associate with pirate sites, and many aren't even aware that their ads appear on such sites.

None of this can work without cooperation. TAG's accomplishments are attributable to the realization among industry stakeholders that consumers deserve a safe, reliable online experience. Advertisers want their messages to appear in appropriate contexts, and creatives whose works appear on criminal sites don't want to see those sites funded by brands that the public knows and loves. An ongoing, concerted effort by everyone in the digital advertising community is the only way to outsmart online criminals – and TAG marks an impressive first strike in the fight.

In my version of a digital utopia, we might just be able to put the criminals out of business for good.