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.
“Brand safety” refers to the efforts that marketers can take to protect against digital marketing appearing alongside offensive or inflammatory content. You may not have heard the term, but you’re probably familiar with the concept.
Most brands have to navigate a vast array of controversial content types, including:
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.
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 operators 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.
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 Farmers campaign). And here’s what we’ve learned works–and doesn’t.