Ensuring your brand safety online


There is no denying that the digital ecosystem has profoundly changed the nature of the advertising industry. Countless platforms, display options and new methods of planning, buying and selling advertising have made digital and online content an easy and obvious win for advertisers.

However, as marketers continue to place more and more of their budget on online content, advertisers need to be aware of the many risks associated with digital advertising and the need to work closely with media owners and agencies to ensure the measures are in place to protect marketers reputation.

What are the risks for brands who advertise online? 

The rise of networks which allow for the almost immediate buying and selling of advertising space, although convenient, has resulted in spaces being bought on websites that are inappropriate, offensive and often illegal. 

Several high profile brands have already fallen victim to the process, where their ads have been placed on sites hosting content sourced illegally, pornography and in some cases, content that is generated and published by known terrorist groups. 

In addition to inadvertently funding such sites, brands whose ads are seen directly against such content run the risk of public condemnation and significant damage to their reputation, both online and off. 

What steps can advertisers take to prevent such damage? 

1. Adopt ISBA's Framework Agreement: 

As a first step in tackling the issue, ISBA has created a member-only framework contract template for media services. Covering both content verification and brand safety, the framework agreement includes clauses specifically designed to ensure that ads are not placed on inappropriate sites. 

Additionally, the framework enables advertisers to ensure that their agency is taking measures to adopt industry best practice, thereby limiting the risk of ad misplacement on ‘blacklisted’ sites, as determined by the advertiser or as listed on the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unity (PIPCU) ‘Infringing Website List (IWL). 

Contact Debbie Morrison for more detail.

2. Insist your agency adopts industry best practice

ISBA is a founding member (together with the IPA, AOP and IAB) of the Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards (JICWEBS) which was set up, in part, to reduce the risk of advertising appearing within illegal or inappropriate content online. 

JICWEBS operates a certification system to enable participating companies to be audited to ensure their processes meet brand safety guidelines. Currently 35 companies have received this seal for Brand Safety and we advise advertisers to check all ad trading partners to make sure they have this certification to ensure their online reputation is protected.

To find out more about JICWEBS and how you can get involved, please contact David Ellison

Infringing Website List: 
As outlined above, PIPCU have created the IWL, ‘an online portal containing an up-to-date list of copyright infringing sites, identified and evidenced by the creative industries and verified by the City of London Police unit.’ The list is available to anyone involved in the sale and trading of digital advertising. 

Find out more about the initiative here > 


3. Download ISBA's Brand Safety Guidance 

Your media agency should be taking all relevant steps to ensure your reputation is not tarnished by the advertisements they place online, programmatically or otherwise. 

In addition to adopting ISBA’s Framework Agreement (see above), brands should have honest and open discussions with their agencies regarding their expectations and safety policies. 

As an aid, ISBA has produced a Brand Safety Guideline, which sets out a number of questions to ask your agency, plus a series of tips and tools that brands can use to help protect their online reputation. Download the guide.

Brand safety initiatives update 

Commitment to Online Brand Safety

Unfortunately we are continuing to hear of cases where digital adverts from a number of UK brands have appeared on sites which may be harmful to their online reputation - with such sites often including containing paedophilic, racist and other illegal content.  

ISBA continues to remind our members of the risks associated with digital advertising and we urge you to outline and discuss any possible dangers with your media agency. As an aid, we have put together a guideline on Online Brand Safety, which you can now download and use as a first measure to try to ensure your online brand reputation stays intact - 

 Download here >

The Infringing Website List (IWL)

in 2010 Culture Minister Ed Vaizey asked the advertising industry to establish a ‘black list’, comprising of websites that infringe copyright and / or illegally file share, and where online advertising has appeared.

These websites offer consumers unauthorised creative content and have a significant impact on the UK economy, affecting UK businesses, jobs and taxes.

Since then ISBA has been working closely with legally file share, and where online advertising has appeared, ISBA has been working closely with the IAB, the IPA, the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU), Government-funded and run by the City of London Police, which is responsible for holding and operating a black list or ‘Infringing Website List’ on behalf of the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT), representing music and film.

Last year seven members of ISBA’s Digital, Data & Direct Action Group took part in a pilot scheme, which ran from June to September 2013, during which time a copy of the List, containing 61 illegal websites, was available. The Infringing Website List was formally launched on 31 March. See ‘City of London Police call on ad and brand sectors to help tackle cyber crime’.A press release was also issued.

Companies are encouraged to email PIPCU ( expressing their interest in signing up to the updated List and being sent instructions to receive a log in and password to the online portal. 

How important is this issue?

Andy Muddimer, Head of Digital at Santander, Deputy Chair of ISBA’s Digital Action Group and one of the IWL pilot participants, said: “The damage to brand reputation when online ads appear on illegal websites is a real concern for advertisers. Following a successful pilot involving Santander and six other ISBA members, we are pleased that the IWL will soon be available. This online resource provides welcome reassurance which we would urge all online advertisers to pass on to the agencies they employ to serve their ads”.

Members are asked to make the use of the List a pre-requisite of a campaign purchase, with agencies incorporating use of the Register into their business processes. ISBA will publish a guidance note to circulate to members listing actions they can take to bolster current contracts.

These will not be official addendums to the contract but supporting information sent to members when ISBA distributes the media agency contract. If you have any queries re these two initiatives please contact David Ellison.

Good Practice Principles (GPPs)

In 2011 the Digital Trading Standards Group (DTSG) was formed to ensure that best practice is extended to all players operating within the digital display advertising trading space, giving advertisers greater confidence in the systems they rely on.

Reputational damage which can be inflicted on a brand from just one of its blind online media buys appearing on an undesirable or unsavoury website can far outweigh the value of the overall media schedule itself. Under the principles businesses have their ad misplacement policies (involving CV tools, black and white lists) verified by ABC or an independent third party. Members are encouraged to ask their media agencies to urge their ad networks to gain independent verification to the new cross-industry version of the Principles.

The GPPs aim to significantly reduce the risk of misplacement of advertising across the digital trading market, giving advertisers greater confidence in the systems they rely on. The 3D Action Group has officially endorsed the DTSG ‘Statement of Intent’, which supports the DTSG Principles. The last couple of years has seen the emergence of real-time Content Verification (CV) Tools, software programmes that promise to ensure, in real time, that their clients’ online advertising is not distributed to sites identified in advance as inappropriate or as “conflicting with the interests of the brand”.

The Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), which independently verifies and reports on media performance, has verified CV Tool performance. Having issued Public Certificates of Capability to five CV tools: Double Verify, Integral Ad Science, Project Sunblock, Emediate SiteScreen and comScore. Culture Minister Ed Vaizey (EV) has kept a watching brief on developments, and recently acknowledged that DTSG ‘is facilitating very useful progress,’ pointing out that the UK leads the world in this initiative.

Current Status: In February ABC was been appointed the first approved Verification Provider for the Principles, issuing a "kite-mark" to companies whose practices have been successfully audited. Since then BPA Worldwide and ePrivacyconsult have also been appointed as approved Verification Providers.

The following companies have had their policies and processes independently verified and have been issued with a seal and certificate:

Ad2One, Crimtan, Exponential Interactive, IgnitionOne, InSkin Media, Media iQ Digital, quantcast, RadiumOne, TubeMogul, Vibrant Media, Quantcast, Specific Media, Vivaki and Unruly

Other companies have all pledged their commitment to being independently verified. Advertisers are asked to contact their media agencies to urge their ad networks to gain verification, via an independent third party, to the new cross-industry version of the Principles, which will entitle them to a "kite-mark."

If you have any queries re these initiatives please contact David Ellison.

The cost of online IP infringement

IP infringing websites offering consumers unauthorised creative content have a significant impact on the UK economy, directly affecting UK businesses, jobs and taxes. The UK audiovisual industries estimate they are losing £500m a year from copyright theft, equating to a total economic loss to the UK economy of £1.2bn.

These websites may be located throughout the world but are directed to UK consumers. Enforcement against IP infringing websites, via the Infringing Website List, is critical, but only addresses the “worst of the worst.” Enforcement cannot effectively target thousands of websites around the world due to jurisdiction, volume, and a dynamic online landscape where new websites regularly appear and others adapt or take evasive action to counter enforcement efforts.

Therefore, an important complementary strategy is to “follow the money”: to stop the sources of revenue that provide these IP infringing websites with their financial lifeline. A significant percentage of IP infringing websites are supported by advertising revenue, including major UK and global companies that unintentionally lend their brand reputations as well as their funding to these websites. Ultimately, a “follow the money” approach needs to raise awareness amongst the reputable companies that inadvertently fund IP infringing websites and the infrastructure that permits broader advertising support.