Brand safety is a major concern for any digital marketer. Brand safety is keeping a brand’s reputation safe when advertising online as defined by the Internet Advertising Bureau. In practice, brand safety generally means not running ads next to or alongside any content that the brand disagrees with. There are other areas of brand safety, such as data security, but brand safety centers around ads. It sounds simple: just don’t place ads next to content your brand doesn’t like. In the era of magazines and newspapers, brand safety was much easier. Publications decided what ads went where and next to what content before the issue would print. If ads were still placed manually, brand safety would be simple, but due to the vastness of the Internet, manually placing ads is not possible.
Algorithms are commonly used to place ads, but algorithms make mistakes. There is an infamous column from Private Eye filled with examples of ad placing algorithms making mistakes. The “Malgorithms” column goes to show that brand safety is never guaranteed. Companies large and small are susceptible to ad placement mistakes. The Guardian ran an article about the 2016 attack on the British parliament discussing the attacker and an ad for the Guardian’s own dating site ran next to the piece. This ad placement is unfortunate, and the juxtaposition can be troubling. The algorithm made a mistake, and it left the brand exposed. There are some steps a brand can take to limit brand safety issues.
Guilt By Association
While we are not supposed to “judge a book by its cover”, we do anyway. When we see a brand’s ad next to content we find troubling, it is hard to not subconsciously associate the brand with the content. Logically, an ad is not connected to content unless specifically linked, but that is not how customers see it. Should an ad for your brand end up next to problematic content, your brand will be tainted in the eyes of the customer. This negative association could be enough for a customer to do business elsewhere.
Brands do not want to drive customers away, so they will always act to protect their brand. An example of brands taking action in response to problematic ad placement is the 2017 YouTube “adpocalypse.” It was discovered that ads were playing on YouTube videos containing extremist views. Many brands paused their ads on YouTube until they could be assured this would not happen again. It was better for the brand reputation to stop advertising than leave the ads up but run the risk of being associated with unacceptable content.
Problematic content also has a wide definition. There are some obvious topics that should be avoided. No brand wants to be associated with terrorism or hate speech. However, content that is considered inappropriate for one brand might be fine for a different brand. A personal injury attorney could be perfectly fine with having their ads next to a story about car crashes, but a car-seat maker may not want that association. Only you and your brand can decide what content is acceptable and what crosses the line. It is important that you know what topics your brand does and does not want to associate with so there is no confusion about what needs to be done when a questionable situation arises.
Use Filters and Higher Tier Options
On a platform like YouTube, advertisers have the ability to set filters and restrictions for ads. You can blacklist a specific channel if you never want your ads to appear on that channel. While these exclusion filters help, they are not perfect. Use any tool a platform gives you to customize where and when your ads appear, it will never hurt.
If you are offered premium inventory or better ad placement, it is worth considering. Generally speaking, higher priority ad spaces are less risky. While choosing premium inventory is more expensive than blind bidding, it decreases the odds of your ads appearing where you don’t want them.
Ad relevance is less troublesome than ads appearing next to bad content, but it is still important. If an ad is not relevant to a customer, then the ad is far less effective. Showing someone an ad for a beach vacation is not relevant to an article about data security. A customer is more likely to engage with an ad if it pertains to what they were already doing. While running an irrelevant ad won’t tarnish your brand’s reputation, it won’t help it either. Try your best to place ads where they will be the most effective and relevant.
Data Safety and Protection
Brand safety directly links to brand reputation. Ad placement is a large part of brand safety and reputation, but there are other things that can damage your reputation. Data breaches are a fact of life in this technology-centered world. Data, whether it be company data, customer data, or personal data, is valuable. Every company needs to take steps to secure their data not only so criminals can’t weaponize stolen data, but also to protect company reputation. There are few things as damaging to a brand’s reputation as a data breach where sensitive customer information is stolen or compromised.
Having a single line of defense is better than having no defense, but ideally, you want multiple layers of defense to guard your data. This means that should a hacker breach one defense, there are more defenses to stop them or at least slow them down giving your company time to react.
Limit who at your company has access to databases. Only give employees access if that access is necessary for them to do their job and track who has access to what. By keeping a list of who can access what data, should something go wrong you have a list of people to talk to first. Should you need to share data only use approved and secure methods.
Brand safety is a vital element of any company. Pay attention to where your ads appear to ensure they are not being placed where they shouldn’t be. Take every step possible to protect your brand’s reputation.