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SME 2018: IAB's Eric John Talks Brand Safety, Blockchain
Streaming Media Contributing Editor Tim Siglin interviews IAB's Eric John at Streaming Media East 2018

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Read the complete transcript of this interview:

Tim Siglin: Welcome back to Streaming Media East 2018. I'm here with Eric John from IAB. I'm Tim Siglin, contributing editor with Streaming Media magazine. Eric, good to have you. Tell me your title at IAB.

Eric John: I'm the Deputy Director of IAB's Video Center of Excellence. I manage the care and feeding of the center, which focuses on basically making sure that buyers and sellers are working together to address marketplace issues in the buying and selling of media.

Tim Siglin: Of media, okay. For those who don't know in our audience, what is IAB.

Eric John: IAB is the Interactive Advertising Bureau. We're the big tent under which the media ecosystem comes to address issues of marketplace friction, to develop the protocols and standards that enable ads to show up in the right place, at the right time, to the right user, and looking good, and that the user experience is a quality one. We're also addressing issues around brand safety, and that was actually the topic that I led a panel about today.

Tim Siglin: Tell me what brand safety means.

Eric John: In people's minds who don't perhaps live in the video, or in the media or advertising world, for consumers it can mean if you're a CMO at a company and some consumer has an issue and they're tweeting about it, it could be potentially a disparaging issue for your brand. In the media world, it can be everything from you're a publisher, and you might have an ad for some constituency that you might not think is a match for your brand. That's a problem.

If you're an advertiser, it's your quality ad showing up in a bad place. But it's much bigger, and that's actually something that our panel discussed, how the definition of brand safety is shifting. It's beyond just ads showing up in the right place. It's now encompassing issues of fake news, data and the use of consumer data. This is all playing out now in the headlines, as we see in Washington, and across the consumer landscape. It's really, brand safety has become really a consumer issue as well.

Tim Siglin: I know I've done in the past projects for Coca-Cola, GE, Microsoft, a number of companies. In the early days, you'd want to advertise that they were your customers. If you put the logo up, within two days you'd get a message saying, "Hey, take the logo down." So, I mean that obviously was trying to keep from diluting the brand. But, from the safety standpoint you're really talking about something significantly beyond that, where it could have a quite negative impact as opposed to just the dilution end.

Eric John: Brands have a real concern nowadays. Everything is moving so quickly. It's such a fragmented media space. You can have a brand guideline if you're say, for instance, a pharmaceutical company. Making sure that you're protecting that brand in the mind of consumer, there are laws around how that's done. Now, companies across the board are really thinking about what are their guidelines, as you think about especially advertising. So, what the panel discussed was at-risk reward of marketing in the ecosystem today. You can with the press of a button distribute your advertising across a landscape. You might not actually be able to control if it's user-generated content, the conversation that flows after you place your ad.

Tim Siglin: Right.

Eric John: So, it's really a lot of balancing risk and reward in how you manage.

Tim Siglin: Would it be as granular as deciding that you're not going to publish on a particular platform? Say, for instance, I don't know, Kick falls out of favor, or Snap falls out of favor, and you decide from a brand safety standpoint you don't want your advertising to show up on those platforms.

Eric John: Well, it's a little bit trickier than that. If you're a brand that has a youthful audience, and your audience is living and communicating on that platform, in many ways you can't not be in the conversation. So, the question sort of becomes, "How can you control that message in a platform that has the right audience?" So, issues around influencer marketing become key. Like who do you get to be a spokesperson for your brand? There's best practices around that. Do you really know the history of that brand influencer, and how they communicate, and what their audience is really like? You can do the homework, and really understand what's the safer bet in terms of who you market with.

Tim Siglin: So, I assume then, you're talking about essentially the gatekeeping to decide about the influencers. If at some point down the line that influencer falls out of favor ... You know in the publishing world we have embargoes and kills. Is there a sort of the same model there where you would essentially kill off advertising that is somewhat static or residual on a platform because you no longer want that brand ambassador to be associated with your brand? Or, is the risk just that you have those historical residuals sitting out there that you don't really have control over once you've released them?

Eric John: I think you actually raised three issues in that.

Tim Siglin: Sorry, I know I did.

Eric John: The first is knowing who you're marketing with. Two, this stuff is happening in real time. So, it raises a technical question of how a brand or a platform can get in front of for instance user generated content. You could have a high quality journalistic story from a quality source, but you could ... the response to that story suddenly creates a firestorm. You could have a brand influencer, an athlete, who does something that you never would imagine, and suddenly they're persona non grata. You could have, you know these scenarios are really real-time.

So, the other thing we talked about on the panel was, "What are the solutions that are coming on the horizon that are helping brands and publishers get in front of this?" Technologies like AI and machine learning, they can help scan content. So, before your ad appears it's actually reading the surrounding environment and making sure it's right.

Tim Siglin: Almost like having the eight-second dump button in the broadcast world.

Eric John: You could think of it that way. We're not there yet. And, video is really complex. If you think about it, it's a really complex object. Right?

Tim Siglin: Right.

Eric John: So, you can do texts with taxonomy, and metadata. Video is a different beast, so there's efforts around that. Another emerging technology we talked about was blockchain. It has potential to improve transparency because it's a ledger essentially, distributed ledger where buyers and sellers, or transactional partners, are truly understood. You're disintermediating a lot of the layers that have made the marketplace really murky. So, a lot of interest in seeing how that evolves.

Tim Siglin: Nice. Eric, appreciate your time.

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