Two-thirds of ads from the UK’s top 100 advertisers ran in non-brand-safe environments this year, a report by Ebiquity has revealed.
The study found that 65% of the brands had been exposed, with ecommerce the most at-risk category, followed by charities and food and drink.
Researchers also found a strong connection between ads that appeared in non-brand-safe environments and ad fraud. This is because much of unsafe web traffic is generated by the widespread use of traffic brokers (such as cost-per-click buying models that compensate for under-delivery in digital media plans).
"A large proportion of traffic brokerage sites are known to be non-brand-safe and therefore contribute to the phenomenon disproportionately," the report concludes.
Performance campaigns run at a higher risk, the researchers note, because there is less focus on the environment in which brands appear and more focus on conversions. For example, high volumes of cheap, low-quality inventory – known as cookie bombing – can be bought in order to inflate conversions.
However, different advertiser categories carry different levels of risk. For example, car brands are more likely to appear in environments containing "violence and weapons", whereas beauty/fitness and finance advertisers are more likely to be found next to "extreme" or politically ideological content.
Ecommerce, meanwhile, was the categoriy most likely to appear in environments containing "sexuality and nudity" – something that is perhaps a result of the direct response nature of performance campaigns.
Angus McLean, director of digital at Ebiquity, said: "Our report demonstrates that brand safety is a complex issue that remains highly relevant for many brands and there isn’t necessarily one standard applicable to all advertisers. Despite continued risks to brands, we believe advertisers can take active steps to tackle brand safety and ad fraud."
Brand Safety in the UK: Willing to risk it? A report on Brand Safety and Advertiser Preference identified 100,000 non-brand-safe cases and was produced in partnership with online advertising monitoring and insights company Zulu5.