This past year has been a whirlwind for the digital advertising industry and there seems to be no end in sight. It all started last March when The Times ran an exposé showing that YouTube was running ads from major brands in front of terrorist propaganda videos. This sparked a “brand safety crisis” that has awakened an entire industry. Major brands like Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo, McDonald’s, and Walmart withdrew their ads from the YouTube platform and some brands have even issued an ultimatum to digital ad companies. Some experts predict YouTube ad boycotts will cost Google $750 million in advertising revenue!
The nightmare continued when Procter & Gamble (P&G) decided this month to remove $200 million in digital marketing spending and redirect it to more stable mediums such as TV. After the YouTube incident last year, Google and Facebook have been under heavy pressure to release more data regarding the effectiveness of their digital advertising. After the data was released, P&G foundthat the average view time for a mobile ad appearing in a news feed on Facebook was a paltry 1.7 seconds. This was the final push for them to leave the digital advertising market.
Brand safety has become a top concern for many companies. In fact, 78% of chief marketing officers surveyed say that is single-handedly their biggest concern. That’s why so many companies are quick to jump ship at the first sign of trouble. Facebook’s recent Cambridge Analytica scandal saw several brands (SpaceX, Tesla, Mozilla, and Sonos) distance themselves or even outright pull their ads from the platform. While boycotts are a long-standing American tradition, this brand safety crisis is a new animal.
What Does Brand Safety Entail?
The basic concept of brand safety is that brands do not want their companies to be associated with hateful or offensive content. Due to the automation of most digital advertising, brands run the risk of having their ads published in unsafe environments. This can include sites that promote fraud, fake news, extremist views, or, to a lesser extent simply don’t match the type of demographic the marketers are aiming for. (For a far more exhaustive explanation, we highly recommend reading Banner Flow’s amazing introduction to brand safety.)
The question remains, how can a brand protect themselves amidst the swirling winds chipping away at the stalwart pillars of digital marketing? Brands can no longer trust that large premium access organizations, such as Facebook or Google, will protect their interests, at least where visibility is concerned. In today’s world, even the most finely crafted, artisanal marketing campaign can go off the rails quickly. One of your brand’s ads could show up next to offensive content, be screen grabbed, and then quickly made viral across Twitter. Any goodwill your brand has gathered will disappear faster than an ice cube in the Arabian desert.
6 Ways You Can Protect Your Brand
How can your brand take control in such an uncertain landscape?
- Define What Brand Safety Means for Your Company
It is important that you define exactly what kind of content you are looking to avoid being associated with. If you are a kids’ brand, you will not want your ads appearing next to adult content, for example. Your definition is subjective. Instead of trusting that premium access to sites will protect you, take ownership by creating “whitelists” and “blacklists” that categorize safe and unsafe websites.
- Advertise in Fewer Places
With the recent revelations about P&G’s ad viewing times, it makes sense to question the overall efficacy of digital advertising. However, the cure may be to simply reduce the number of places you advertise your brand. When JPMorgan Chase reduced their ad reach from 400,000 websites to 5,000 they saw zero difference in their ad performance. Zero! Consider that the less places your ads can show up, the less chance you have of being associated with offensive content. Focus on placing your ads carefully and in fewer locations, provided those markets match your audience demographic.
- Use Private Marketplaces
Algorithms and programs drive the majority of advertisement placement but, unfortunately, that’s where the majority of the brand safety crisis arose. Fortunately, your brand can safely engage with programmatic advertising via new private marketplaces (PMP) offered by premium publishers. What differentiates these entities from Facebook or Google is that their reason for existence is brand safety. PMPs allow publishers to sell premium inventory to brands while brands have a safe ecosystem that they can advertise in. Learn more about PMPs here.
- Be Cautious with Social Media Platforms and Personalities
If you use social media personalities to promote your brand, buyer beware! While influencer marketing can be a shrewd and effective method for reaching your ideal audience, it can easily go awry when content creators (like PewDiePie) go off-script. The recent incident with Rihanna and Snapchat illuminates how your brand can be quickly hijacked due to an inappropriate or misplaced advertisement.
- Expect Accountability
The crux of the issue with the YouTube ad scandal was that Google was not doing enough to police their own inventory. Advertisers finally had enough and demanded accountability. As a purchaser, you should do the same with any digital ad company you enlist. Ask agencies how they minimize brand safety risk. Holding a company accountable for its mistakes and demanding transparency will help rebuild the broken trust from the past year.
- Demand Contextual Targeting
Contextual targeting is when ads are served next to brands that match the editorial content on the page. A brand’s marketing team can create “content categories” that identify hundreds of different criteria for what is objectionable and what is not. This is a great way to prevent your brand’s ads from appearing next to news stories that may have graphic or objectionable content.
New Helpful Companies in the Field
Creation of companies like Branovate and AnyClip are finding creative ways to help combat the pitfalls of brand safety. Branovate “provides brands with access to a wide range of premium media sites, helping you reach audiences and provide the most engaging digital media content.” AnyClip recently released a “first-ever AI-powered platform” that will provide real-time assessments of content and where the ads are being displayed. AnyClip’s platform is a PMP that already has access to an enormous library of premium content producers.
These companies and many others like them are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to battling the problems of brand safety. Ultimately, the brand safety crisis may be a good thing for brands. This will force brands to be more proactive about where their ads appear and monitor their marketing campaigns so that another brand safety crisis doesn’t blow the whole house down.