Brand Safety and Brand Reputation go hand-in-hand - and are no longer being taken for granted by the world’s biggest marketers and tech companies.

This is my second year in a row at Cannes after a three-year hiatus. Like last year, the Croisette was busy (but not jam packed) and sponsor branding was omnipresent (but not as glitzy). And, as always, everyone was hard at work (and play) all week. La différence? More panels, content and research studies than I’ve seen in recent memory.  The consultancies, Accenture & Deloitte, were there in force, but MediaLink won the week, leaping Barnum-esque from the Carlton into its own mega-tent behind the Palais. Classic Michael Kassan: if you pitch it, they will come.  Bravo for the courage and vision that extended the Croisette all the way to the Beach.


Last week’s event had the feel and focus of an industry grappling with existential threats to its ecosystem.  In the new reality of GDPR, imminent US regulation, fraud, data hacks and unsafe content across the largest platforms and publishers, people are questioning the sustainability of an ad-supported Internet with urgency:

  • Brand Safety: Is the digital ecosystem a quality advertising environment for brands (probably the biggest topic and conversation of the week)?
  • Fraud & Public Distrust of the Internet: Has the Industry ruined a good thing?
  • Self-Regulation or Regulation: Are companies trustworthy enough to self-regulate (with Industry oversight) or is regulation requisite and inevitable?


Big Questions. The Industry seems suddenly savvy to the reality that it’s up to brands and agencies (as chief investors) to be responsible and accountable for these issues. The alternative? An unsustainable ad-supported Internet that is incompatible with a high-quality marketplace.


As Lead Director and investor in DoubleVerify, I’ve analyzed these issues with Wayne Gattinella and his great team. Together, we hosted three panels at Cannes that included CMOs and CDOs from McDonald’s, Intel, Adobe, and Citi, as well as voices and perspectives from the product, tech and agency sides. Here’s what we heard from clients, agencies and the Industry overall.

  • A sustainable, ad-supported Internet is essential to Brand Growth and Reputation. Fortune 500 companies clearly believe that where they place ads and what content those ads are juxtaposed with shape consumer attitudes and beliefs about the brand.  A recent Harris Poll and DoubleVerify study confirms this: 68% of adults say it matters to them where they see a brand’s ad/content. Unsafe content will negatively impact their perception of the brand – with material commercial implications.
  • Companies and Brands want independent measurement of Brand Safety, Fraud, and View-ability metrics.  They no longer see self-policing by platforms and publishers as viable – and for good reason: consumers believe Brands and Publishers share responsibility for ensuring brand-content alignment, according to the Harris Poll/DoubleVerify research. In fact, the study showed that nearly 90% of consumers feel that brands bear responsibility for ensuring their ads run beside content that is safe.  Additionally, the majority (61%) say both the brand and the publication/outlet where the ad is placed are equally responsible for ensuring content is safe.
  • Most Consumers would stop using a Brand if its ad appeared next to fake or offensive content. According to the Harris Poll/DoubleVerify research, an overwhelming majority of consumers (82%) say it is important that a brand’s ads appear on content that is safe, accurate and trustworthy. Moreover, nearly two-thirds (65%) of consumers would be likely to stop using the brand/product if they viewed the brand’s advertising beside false, objectionable or inflammatory content.
  • Brand Safety is a top three priority amongst several CMOs/CDOs we talked to.  As Keith Weed said: “a brand without trust is just a product, and products are routinely commoditized.” CMOs are now equating compromised brand safety and trust with product defects and recalls. “It strikes at the heart of a brand reputation,” according to Bob Rupczynski, Global CDO of McDonald’s.


These issues are not just limited to the digital marketing ecosystem occupied by Internet companies. CTV/OTT platforms are experiencing an accelerating uptick in fraud, view-ability and brand safety issues. So much so that Randy Freer, CEO of Hulu, said to CNBC that he believed the #1 topic at Cannes this year was “Brand Safety.”

These issues are not just limited to the digital marketing ecosystem occupied by Internet companies. CTV/OTT platforms are experiencing an accelerating uptick in fraud, view-ability and brand safety issues.

Laura Desmond, DoubleVerify's Lead Director and Investor

This is an emerging channel in which advertisers and brands will (and must) invest over the next several years. The current zeitgeist is that the TV ecosystem is safe and high quality, without fraud. Unlike the broadcast networks, however, this doesn’t extend to CTV and OTT: measurement tools and technology are needed in this fast-growing area to ensure high-quality brand and consumer experiences.


The good news: Cannes 2019 revealed an awakening Industry. The alarm for action is sounding: we can no longer press snooze on a long-term commitment to creating a sustainable, high-quality digital marketing ecosystem. Time to wake up.


For more on the Harris Poll/Double Verify research, please click on this link:


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