Major digital advertising technology players Integral Ad Science and DoubleVerify are both competing to become favored Facebook partners in an experimental brand safety program at the social network, Ad Age has learned. However, their enthusiasm could be a little premature as Facebook is still barely off the ground with the program, which aims to implement “adjacency” controls in News Feed.
A number of ad agency and brand marketing executives, who spoke with Ad Age on condition of anonymity, say that they have heard from both DoubleVerify and Integral Ad Science in recent weeks, separately calling on their advertising clients to contact Facebook on their behalf to help them snag a deal to measure brand safety in Facebook News Feed.
DoubleVerify and Integral Ad Science are both deeply embedded in the digital advertising ecosystem with independent services that measure fraud, viewability standards (how long an ad is viewed by a consumer), and brand safety. Facebook is currently conducting a crucial test to see if it can apply brand safety standards to News Feed, which is the personalized content stream served to 1.8 billion daily users, the way it has in other parts of its platform like within video ads, and the measurement firms want to be the first to participate. The jockeying by the measurement firms is high-stakes, too, because both companies recently went public with multi-billion-dollar valuations. Facebook’s largest brand safety experiment would be a prize for either.
“They are both pushing for it,” says one ad agency exec, speaking on condition of anonymity. “They’ve reached out to sort of, I won’t say pressure, but just saying can you send Facebook a note saying that you would like this.”
Facebook declined to comment about any outreach from potential measurement partners. DoubleVerify and Integral Ad Science did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
However, a Facebook spokesman did say that the News Feed brand safety tests are still in their infancy, and it is not ready to talk about the details of the program publicly. In January, Facebook announced that it would begin to develop a new way for brands to control where they show up in News Feed.
Facebook said it would let brands apply “topic exclusions” to their News Feed ads to help avoid appearing above or below content from everyday users and publishers that don’t meet their brand suitability standards. For instance, participating brands could avoid appearing near topics like news and politics.
Facebook already has “topic exclusions” available in other parts of the platform, including in-stream video ads and Facebook Audience Network, which is Facebook’s ad network that serves ads to third-party publishers. News Feed represents a much greater technological challenge, and Facebook has only begun the smallest tests of how the new controls would work. In recent weeks, advertisers have said that part of the answer is for Facebook to analyze individual users for their propensity to share and consume the type of content brands want to avoid, and then it could restrict ads to those users from the brands that choose to avoid them.
DoubleVerify and Integral Ad Science are both already brand safety partners with Facebook in the “topic exclusions” program that pertains to video and audience network. However, in-stream video and audience network are a smaller portion of Facebook’s ad business in comparison to the News Feed. Facebook made $84 billion in ad revenue in 2020, and News Feed is its largest source of sales.
DoubleVerify and Integral Ad Science both make more money with more ad impressions flowing through their systems.
YouTube has a measurement program similar to the one Facebook is considering, and last year it named DoubleVerify, Integral Ad Science and a slate of others as partners. But with Facebook’s News Feed safety program still barely off the ground, it is still unclear if it can implement the types of protections brands are demanding. Facebook safety issues became more pronounced within the past year during the period of social unrest in the U.S. following the killing of George Floyd and during the U.S. presidential election.
More than 1,000 advertisers boycotted Facebook last July to protest hate speech and disinformation on the service, and that heightened the calls for brands to be able to avoid appearing adjacent to any offensive or unsuitable subjects.
Ad Age spoke with Lisa Utzschneider, CEO of Integral Ad Science, ahead of the company’s initial public offering this week. Utzschneider discussed the need for Facebook to verify brand safety through independent parties.
“Since the boycott last year, over 1,000 advertisers boycotted Facebook, it elevated the discussion in a broader arena for brand safety and third-party verification solutions to partner with third-party verification companies,” Utzschneider said. “I hope it happens that Facebook opens up to [Integral Ad Science]. Facebook earlier this year published a blog saying they’re going to build a first-party solution first, but given the incredible need, there’s a huge opportunity.”
Contributing: Mike Juang