Q&A: Lisa Utzschneider – Brand Risk has Never Been More Top of Mind for Marketers

We recently caught up with Lisa Utzschneider, the CEO of Integral Ad Science, to take a deep dive into all things ad verification, from the very definition of the field through a cookie-less, gamified future.

Prior to IAS, Utzschneider had held roles with tech giants including Microsoft, Yahoo, and Amazon. Over the course of her 20-year career, she’s been at the forefront of the digital advertising revolution and in turn has a unique perspective on the fast and furious growth the industry is going through.

She’s also been a leader at a large organization during arguably the strangest period of life and business any of us have ever seen. She shared with us her thoughts on the pandemic and the changes it brought about to the industry.


Ad verification is evolving as a field; could you describe exactly what it entails and why it’s necessary?

Ad verification and measurement have never been more important for advertisers and publishers. As brands invest even greater budgets into digital advertising — eMarketer estimates that global digital ad spend will surpass $455 billion this year — transparency and control are the major themes this year.

“Digital advertising is an extremely dynamic industry, but it’s the intersection of data and technology that has driven the biggest change and will continue to.”

At IAS, our mission is to be the global benchmark for trust and transparency in digital media quality. To do this, we provide technology that ensures ads are viewable by real people in safe and suitable environments. Delivering trusted tools for advertisers and publishers to control and protect their ad investments is essential. That’s why we constantly invest in our technology and partnerships.


Looking to the future, both advertisers and publishers need strong partners to help them navigate media quality across new and evolving environments including connected TV (CTV) and major social platforms. With the tremendous growth of CTV streaming and social media use during the pandemic, advertisers want to take advantage.

Recently we’ve all been bombarded with the fact that we’re living in a post-cookie world. Why does this matter? What does it mean for advertisers?

Preparing for a cookieless future is certainly a hot topic, but it’s not just about advertisers. This is a shift for the entire industry, and we see both marketers and publishers leaning into contextual targeting strategies.

Over the past year, the pandemic put context adjacencies in the limelight for marketers and publishers alike. Brands became even more aware of the context their ads were running alongside, especially during challenging or sensitive news cycles.

“The pandemic changed every facet of our daily lives — as team leaders, parents, and digital advertising experts.”

Brands want to be sure that their campaigns run in contextually relevant environments, aligning with both their ad messaging and brand values. There is a massive opportunity ahead for brands to make even better use of the contextual signals available to them and customize their campaigns. For publishers, it’s important to successfully classify the quality content that they create in better ways for advertisers, which can ultimately boost monetization opportunities.

You’ve been in the digital ad space for more than 20 years. How has it changed and what will it become in the future?

I’ve had the unique opportunity to witness and play a pivotal role in the transformation of the digital ad industry through my roles at Microsoft, Amazon, Yahoo, and now IAS. Digital advertising is an extremely dynamic industry, but it’s the intersection of data and technology that has driven the biggest change and will continue to.

“For the ad industry, COVID-19 drove increased awareness for contextual targeting and avoidance, more viewership across CTV devices, and so much more.”

Being part of this growth industry and creating the change that we want to see is truly what energizes me. When it comes to my day-to-day role, I often say that I’m a builder at heart. I stay focused on building our business, delivering for our customers, and growing our talented team at IAS.

Marketers waste billions of dollars every year by paying for fraudulent ads, and that’s a massive industry problem worth solving. Here are three trends worth noting:

The future is cookieless — and contextual: Growing concerns among brands about context adjacencies and changes to third-party cookies have shifted the industry’s focus to contextual targeting. In fact, both advertisers and publishers need contextual tools to navigate this new reality.

Marketers will take advantage of contextual signals to make sure their campaigns align with the right content and their brand values. Meanwhile, publishers can benefit from better classifying their content and stronger opportunities to monetize it. With all of this in mind, contextual targeting is likely to be an even more significant part of budgets in the future.

CTV viewership is on the rise, creating more ad inventory and demand for verification. While CTV environments will be a key way for brands to reach audiences at scale, programmatic buying and a lack of standards means brand risk can be higher.

As companies put data to work to deliver better insights for marketers and publishers when it comes to CTV, there are opportunities ahead for greater control in these campaigns and return on investment.

Greater transparency is coming to social platforms: The strong draw of social platforms is clear, but transparency issues remain. Advertisers want better metrics and greater confidence that their investments are driving results.

Helping marketers address transparency issues with better brand safety and suitability controls across social platforms could have a significant impact on spending in the future. To achieve this, advertisers will need verification partners that have integrations across the major social platforms and the ability to activate where it counts.

Has the pandemic had an impact on digital advertising and in turn ad verification?

The pandemic changed every facet of our daily lives — as team leaders, parents, and digital advertising experts. For leaders, staying calm under pressure and focusing on making the difficult decisions that are right for the business has been absolutely critical this year.

During the pandemic, I’ve also witnessed friends and colleagues address career advancement challenges. Standing out in a new role, while working remotely, can be challenging — not to mention the impact of the pandemic on women and mothers who have been balancing work and home life for many months.

For the ad industry, COVID-19 drove increased awareness for contextual targeting and avoidance, more viewership across CTV devices, and so much more. This growth has created not only growth but strong demand for even more sophisticated ad verification across these environments and capabilities. I encourage everyone to view this moment as an opportunity for our industry; seize it and turn a challenge into a success.

You previously said, “Programmatic continues to gain and shows unprecedented growth opportunities this year, but marketers still see a potential for risk and the need for more verification.” Could you expand on why this is the case?

Programmatic offers incredible opportunities for marketers to reach their audiences more efficiently. Still, with more budgets shifting to programmatic, advertisers need greater transparency to make sure these dollars are going towards quality media. In fact, our recent research shows that the majority of industry experts say programmatic is most likely to experience brand risk incidents.

That’s why supply path optimization is key, helping advertisers select the most effective and cost-efficient buying channels for their campaigns. It’s another reason why we’re so focused on increasing transparency in programmatic through our technology and recently acquired Amino Payments as we continue to grow our Total Visibility offering. Marketers need better insights into digital media quality and supply path costs.

From new gaming platforms to evolving social media, there seems to be hesitancy for some advertisers to get involved. Is that hesitancy due to real brand safety issues or are advertisers’ fears overblown?

Brand risk has never been more top of mind for marketers. The pandemic certainly contributed to this, but it’s also about the expectations that consumers have for modern brands. Amid political, cultural, and societal turmoil, our latest Media Quality Report shows that brand risk increased across several categories.

For example, increases in adult content and hate speech drove greater brand risk across all formats globally. As a result, marketers are adopting contextual targeting and avoidance solutions to help them address these brand risk concerns.