Navigating the Walled Garden Landscape – a Q&A with Emma Lacey, SVP EMEA at Zefr

Emma Lacey, SVP EMEA at Zefr

By R. Larsson, Advertising Week

Q: Why is the walled garden landscape complex for brands to navigate?

Content on walled garden platforms like TikTok and Facebook can be a minefield to navigate because it is formatted differently to media on the open web. It’s image-rich, informal in structure, often user-generated and increasingly includes video elements that have become harder to analyse and categorise than text-based media.

Furthermore, many legacy third-party brand suitability tools such as keyword blocklists are built for websites — not for scrolling video like Instagram’s stories, TikTok’s or any of the other app-based interfaces that predominate today. This has made it extremely difficult for brands to ensure consistent suitability and safety in the digital spaces where their target audiences are amassing.

Q: Can you share some examples of what brands and platforms have done to combat these complexities?  

TikTok’s powerful algorithm and endless armoury of engaging content has made it a favourite for users around the globe. The sheer volume and publishing frequency of content however has highlighted the need for sophisticated measurement of video in-feed at scale.

Once marketers have this data, they can gain deeper transparency into what content their ad campaigns are appearing adjacent to and take the necessary steps to refine their risk preferences and get in front of the right audiences. It’s worth mentioning that TikTok also débuted its Inventory Filter to provide advertisers with access to three distinct tiers of video inventory, taking a major step forward with their ability to offer brands more robust control over their advertising environment.

Looking at Facebook’s Feed, this has long been a space for brands big and small to run ads, and as the platform has grown, the content has also evolved, with images and dynamic video favoured over text-based posts. Rather than relying solely on semantic technology or keyword analysis typically used for the open web, Facebook has leveraged machine learning and AI to provide advertisers with suitability reporting on their content adjacencies, tied to the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) framework.

Q: What are the opportunities for brands within walled gardens as they evolve?

These environments are going to become increasingly important as third-party identifiers are phased out across the open web. As a result, walled garden platforms are attractive destinations for a brand’s ad dollars, offering valuable first-party data options and advanced targeting that lends itself to testing and optimisation more quickly. This complements where users are choosing to spend their time with relative newbie TikTok expected to reach 1.8 billion active users by the end of 2022 and attracting more attention from key younger demographics.

Alongside this, platform capabilities will naturally become more innovative, offering brands new ways to engage with audiences. TikTok for example, with its community feel, helps marketers connect with audiences on a more personal level. Brands can also unleash their creativity on these platforms, joining in with trends, harnessing new features and escaping the constraints of traditional media. Dove’s #NoDigitalDistortion campaign here on TikTok and Ford’s launch of its Ford P758 here on TikTok were prime examples, showing how communities can be built rapidly on the platform.

Q: How can brands ensure they are aligned with relevant content on these platforms that promise vast scale?

In short – by ditching their reliance on legacy brand safety solutions! Walled gardens are developing into even more sophisticated, complex environments so using stagnant keyword blocklists is simply not enough to ensure accurate content adjacencies for video. AI and machine learning technology, tied with GARM’s suitability framework, are already keeping brands safe within these platforms and placing them next to contextually relevant content at scale, so there really is no excuse for misaligned advertising.

In addition, we found that diversity, equity and inclusion content was blocked almost three times as much compared to general content when brands implemented blocklists, as referenced here on The Drum. This highlights that brands need to be incredibly careful about what technology partner they sign a contract with, ensuring they have the right capabilities and tech stack to target audiences without unconscious bias.

Q: Brands are demanding greater transparency and accuracy of their ad investment, what is the one thing they should be asking for from their technology providers?

Greater transparency comes with close collaboration with your technology provider. Part of that means using a shared language to communicate your brand suitability preferences and safety needs.

In an industry first, GARM was able to unite marketers, media agencies, media platforms, and industry associations with a common set of definitions to ensure that the advertising industry is categorising content in the same way across the board.

You cannot address the challenge of harmful online content if you are unable to describe it using a consistent and understandable language. We encourage all players in the space to adopt these principles to protect your brand online and bolster a responsible marketing mindset.