Integral Ad Science: UK brand risk increased across all media environments in H2 2020

Media quality (viewability, brand safety and ad fraud) has been badly impacted by an unprecedented year, that’s according to ad verification firm, Integral Ad Science (IAS) and its H2 2020 Media Quality Report. The report, based on trillions of data events analysed each month worldwide, provides transparency into the performance and quality of UK digital media, alongside worldwide comparisons.

UK brand risk increases across environments

Amid turbulent times, UK brand risk increased across all media environments in H2 2020. Brand risk on desktop display rose 3.2 percentage points from H2 2019 to reach 5.8%. This represents a level of risk the UK has not seen since 2017 – a year defined by tragic domestic events and brand safety scandals. Brand risk on mobile web display rose by 2.3 percentage points when compared year-over-year (YoY), reaching 6%. Brand risk on video formats increased at lower rates than display – desktop video increased to 6.7% and mobile web video hit 8% – although this risk level is still lower than its peak of 11.6% back in H2 2018.

The data shows that the increase of impressions flagged as posing a risk to brands was driven by a rise in adult, hate speech, and violent content:

-Hate speech content saw the largest increase in its share of risk across all inventory types that were flagged for brand risk YoY. In particular, desktop video rose from 0.6% in H2 2019 to 16.5% in H2 2020, while desktop display rose from 2.2% to 17.1%.

-Adult content levels on desktop display reached 18% (up from 3.5%) of the total pages flagged for brand risk, and mobile web display presented a risk of 15.1% (up from 6.7%) in H2 2020.

-Of brand risk pages, the violence category rose on desktop video from 10.4% in H2 2019 to 21.3% in H2 2020, however improvements were made on mobile web video as the brand risk reduced from 40.2% in H2 2019 to 27.3% in H2 2020.

When looking at total impressions flagged as posing a risk across all environments in the UK, six in every 10 were related to content around illegal drugs, alcohol, or violence.

Other key findings

Ad fraud

-With consistent use of anti-fraud technology, ad fraud levels in the UK decreased in all digital ad environments throughout H2 2020, except for desktop video, which increased by 0.1 percentage points.

-All inventory optimised against fraudulent activity was on par or below the worldwide averages of 0.8% for desktop display and video, 0.4% for mobile web display, and 0.3% for mobile web video in H2 2020.

-In contrast, advertising campaigns that did not use optimisation tools and strategies encountered fraud levels up to 11 times higher than those optimised against fraud.


-In the UK iewability within the mobile-app display environment increased 4.2 percentage points YoY to 72.9% in H2 2020, increasing the ability for digital ads to be seen by consumers. This is likely as a result of wider adoption of the IAB Tech Lab’s Open Measurement Software Development Kit (OM SDK). However, viewability levels slightly decreased across other media environments due to more digital content consumption, increased demand and constraints on high quality ad inventory during the busy holiday period.

-Overall, UK display inventory still ranks above global averages – desktop display viewability in the UK is 71.3% (versus the global average 68.8%) and mobile web display is 67.8% (versus the global average 62.9%).

UK advertisers have more time to engage with their audiences

As consumers have spent more time with digital content across 2020, the average time that ad content is in-view has increased, providing UK advertisers a greater opportunity to engage with their audiences. Time-in-view increased YoY for desktop display from 20.11 in H2 2019 to 21.34 seconds in H2 2020, and for mobile web display from 14.84 to 15.68 seconds over the same period.

Rather than a blanket approach to blocking online content, brands looking to navigate the ever-evolving digital environment should take a nuanced approach, considering the context and sentiment of the content alongside which they advertise. For example, not all pandemic-related content is negative or harmful to a brand, so advertisers needn’t miss out on opportunities to interact with engaged audiences by inadvertently blocking high-quality, contextually suitable publisher inventory.

Nick Morley, EMEA Managing Director at Integral Ad Science