Never 100% safe
It’s hard to know, for sure, Lee said. “We’re never at 100% safety but the question is ‘how big is the crack,’” Lee said, “and I think that is what the industry is worried about [with Twitter], we don’t know what we don’t know and whether there are things behind the scenes that we don’t have access to.”
Twitter has been working on a version of brand safety tools that also mesh with the dictates of Musk, who has bristled at being constrained by advertisers. Many advertisers, though, are not fully sold on Twitter’s claims about the health of its service and say that guardrails could be stronger. Advertisers also say it’s hard to know how Twitter is performing with its tools that are designed to keep ads away from bad content.
“There’s, generally speaking, a hesitancy to be on Twitter because of the brand safety concerns,” said Lee. “There’s brand safety concerns on all platforms, or most platforms, it’s just a matter of how the platform pivots, how communicative they are, how quickly they jump on it and update their technology.”
Twitter has been working with DoubleVerify and Integral Ad Science as third-party validators to report to brands about the context in which ads appear. Twitter has promised brands they can avoid adjacencies to unacceptable tweets. Lee said avoiding harmful tweets is harder than it sounds, though. Twitter has given brands the ability to avoid up to 2,000 terms—words that would raise red flags for the brands’ campaigns. And advertisers can exclude up to 2,000 accounts from their campaigns, meaning their ads would not appear next to any of those Twitter users. “I don’t think 2,000 is enough,” Lee said, adding that in other programmatic advertising platforms brands can sometimes create exclusion lists of up to 30,000 terms.
As for the reporting from third parties, DoubleVerify and Integral Ad Science do not have visibility into every part of Twitter. Ads that run in replies under a tweet can’t be validated for quality, for instance, and more ads are popping up in comment sections and on the account timelines of highly followed Twitter accounts. In fact, last week, Twitter implemented an ad-revenue sharing program with prolific tweeters, some of whom might be considered on the risqué side of brand suitability.
“I still recommend that brands do not spend ad dollars there,” said one top agency exec within a major holding company, speaking on condition of anonymity. This person said that the 2,000-keyword limit on exclusion lists was a “drop in the ocean.” “New accounts are popping up by the minute, so once you block one, there’s another.”
While Twitter declined to comment, a spokesperson pointed to the extensive brand safety roadmap that Twitter has put forth, which includes a plan for “pre-bid” controls. “Pre-bid” controls would be an important tool because they help advertisers avoid unsuitable placements before a campaign runs and don’t rely solely on reports about whether campaigns avoided offensive material after the fact.