Brand safety in the fake news era.

3 Big Lessons on Brand Safety

A human approach to guarding your brand from the worst of the Internet

3 Big Lessons on Brand Safety

We’ve all seen it happen. An article promoting hate speech running a banner ad for a major brand advertiser. A racist or offensive tweet appearing in timelines directly above a sponsored ad for a new motion picture. A children’s toy review running after a pre-roll video for an adult-oriented product.

You may not have heard the term, but you’re probably familiar with the concept. “Brand safety” refers to the efforts that marketers can take to protect against digital marketing appearing alongside offensive or inflammatory content.

Most brands have to navigate a vast array of controversial content types, including:

  • Adult content
  • Alcohol
  • Gambling
  • Hate speech
  • Illegal downloads
  • Illegal drugs
  • Offensive language
  • Violence
  • Inflammatory News

The harm that can come to your brand if your safety protocols let something slip isn’t just measured in embarrassment. The negative impacts can be severe and quantifiable.

2/3 of consumers would be likely to stop using the brand or product if they viewed the brand’s ad next to false or inflammatory content.
87% of consumers feel that brands bear responsibility for ensuring their ads run adjacent to content that is safe.

–Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB)

In addition, movements like Grab Your Wallet and Sleeping Giants have organized consumers to pressure brands into pulling advertising from sites that traffic in misinformation, hate speech, or misogyny.

So what can you do? The methods available to brands have included algorithm-based filtering and blocking programs. From negative keyword lists to pre-bid filtering, whitelisting to blacklisting, we are very much in the early stages of developing brand safety protocols. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as running a program. No single method is sufficient, because tech alone will make slip-ups and over-corrections that could damage your marketing ROI.  

Walled Gardens and Brand Safety

The need to market within the Internet’s “walled gardens” or closed environments such as Amazon, Facebook and Google, adds another wrinkle to the conversation. Speed of content creation is higher in these walled gardens, meaning there’s more risk to control against. In addition, the ecosystem operator’s have enormous discretion, taking some of the control away from brand marketers. And the limits on data sharing between these large platforms and their advertising partners makes the work that much more difficult.

Brand Safety with a Human Touch: 3 Takeaways

As agency of record to some of the largest and most beloved brands in culture, we’ve seen a thing or two (to borrow from our Farmer’s campaign). And here’s what we’ve learned works–and doesn’t.

  1. There’s no substitute for human monitoring.

Blacklists and block lists need constant review and oversight by trained brand safety monitors to be effective.

  1. Education needs to keep pace.

The industry as a whole needs to work quickly to develop and disseminate best practices through our industry-wide networks and institutions. Thankfully, this work is beginning–and RPA is playing a leading role.

  1. Tiered structures require more holistic thinking

Brands themselves may understand the distinction between national and regional marketing efforts, but when a consumer sees a local car dealership ad associated with offensive content, the blowback hits the OEM. Marketers who work with any type of franchisee or regional network need to work through the complications of their tiered marketing thoughtfully, alongside their agency partners.

This article is the first step in an ongoing conversation that can’t be put off any longer. Let’s continue the discussion via email.

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