Now that marketers have been reminded of the internet’s dark side, whitelists are top of mind. Last year, many digital ad players felt like they’d gotten a handle on fraud and celebrated passing TV in U.S. ad revenue for the first time. Then the perils of programmatic advertising roared back in the form of fake news sites and offensive YouTube videos, all underwritten by unwitting major marketers.
Brands like Procter & Gamble and Chase are now scouring the web to reassert control, assembling lists of preapproved publishers worthy of their budgets. Major ad buyers such as GroupM and Omnicom Media Group are working on similar solutions to offer clients.
Whitelists of preapproved publishers give brands the control they are demanding, but they also undermine the prime benefits of digital advertising: the seemingly infinite inventory and ways to target consumers.
The ad-supported world wide web could be changing from a sprawling, inventive and untamed territory to a set of safe spaces for advertisers, possibly changing the character of the internet in the process. Smaller content creators, not necessarily offensive but not preapproved either, could also be stuck in an underfunded zone, cut off from automated ad flows. Jason Kint, CEO of publisher trade group Digital Content Next, said, “If a new property launches and does everything right, it could still have trouble getting on that whitelist.”
GroupM and Omnicom Media Group, as well as ad tech companies like Integral Ad Science, are trying to help brands understand how to whitelist without going too far. Integral Ad Science, for instance, said it can grade almost every page on the internet for brand risk, then let brands decide what risk levels they can support. They say extreme, iron-clad whitelists should apply only to brands with the lowest tolerance for risk.