Brand safety: Don’t play with those grubby kids

Advertising environments can harm brands. How to prevent critical questions from customers and supervisors.

Businesswoman hand connecting jigsaw puzzle with sunlight effect

A report about a plane crash near a tourism ad, an article about a world hunger study next to an ad for a chocolate bar with the slogan “and hunger is forgotten” and – the classic – a text about a concentration camp next to an ad for a gas supplier. There are many ways in which content and advertising can be unsuitable for each other. And while in the print and TV age human ad managers (who of course were not called that yet) made sure that this kind of thing didn’t happen, it is much more difficult in the online and social environment today than it used to be.


Black box programmatic: The marketer doesn’t always know what he’s getting

There are many reasons for this. On the one hand, advertising is delivered to the individual user via targeting and retargeting, and on the other algorithms in the programmatic environment select which campaign is most favorable in which environment (or, conversely, which campaign needs even more visibility). In addition, many publishers combine premium customers with remnant inventory marketing, so that sometimes ads may not appear near inappropriate content, but instead near other inappropriate ads. This is most difficult in social networks, where not only is a greater quantity and more fragmented content delivered, but content is often difficult to evaluate using algorithms.

But brand safety is first and foremost a problem where advertising is played out indiscriminately and where customers and media agencies give up the reins. Here, the rule of thumb is: the more direct the agency’s line to the publisher is and the more “hand-picked” the ad placement is, the better. Or, conversely: those who place their advertising cheaply at any price via a remnant inventory marketer usually get a high proportion of questionable environments – this should be a no-no for branded goods manufacturers.

Numerous branded goods manufacturers demand a guarantee of high-quality content, especially from Facebook and YouTube – an assurance that neither company can of course make to its advertising partners. YouTube pulled the emergency brake here earlier this year: it wanted “to make sure that YouTube is not a place that is misused by those with ill intentions” the company wrote in a blog post. In addition to stricter criteria for the YouTube partner program, which makes it possible to monetize one’s own film content, the advertising environments were to be selected on a random basis. YouTube said that, in the case of moving image content, it would monitor the violation of community rules, spam and other abuse reports more stringently than before.

This had been preceded, among other things, by cases in which advertising by branded goods manufacturers had run ahead of politically rather dubious videos and inferior, irrelevant news trimmed down in length.

This step is only the last chapter in a story that began in March 2017 when the British news portal “The Guardian” announced that it no longer wanted to advertise on YouTube because its own advertising had repeatedly been placed alongside extremist political videos. Apparently, Google’s programmatic marketplace Double Click Ad Exchange was to blame, but at the time Google could not guarantee that something like this would never happen again. It said that it has strict guidelines and does everything to protect users and advertisers from inappropriate content. But could not guarantee this.


Marketing decision-makers must trust agencies – and be vigilant

This leaves a feeling of unease – among media agencies, who fear that their client will accidentally discover an ad in an inappropriate environment, and among the companies themselves, who have to fear that screenshots of the awkward combination of ad and environment will find their way into social media. The consequence: In the best case scenario, the company is a laughing stock, in the worst case it finds itself in the middle of a public outcry.

If you ask companies and agencies, it soon becomes clear: business has become a matter of trust more than ever, and no reputable media agency and no marketer will guarantee that an ad will not appear in an inappropriate environment. The risk increases with the level of real-time bidding, programmatic buying and other automated strategies. In an international study, technology provider Integral Ad Science (IAS) calculated that 8.8 percent of ads measured in Germany appear in a sensitive environment, whereby the environment factor hate speech is the main reason for the very high increase of 24 percent on the previous year.

Agencies and companies have a variety of possibilities to take action against unfavorably placed advertising: via blacklists and whitelists, or using probabilistic methods that evaluate a site on the basis of a real-time probability calculation and find it worthy or unworthy. All these strategies have advantages and disadvantages. To find out which strategy is the right one for your company, read our guide to brand safety strategies, which you can download here free of charge.


Guide to Brand Safety

Download now