Brand safety is still too often underestimated

Programmatic advertising control often pushes ads into inappropriate environments. Is the brand image at risk?

Brand safety is still too often underestimated
Among other things, Christian Zimmer developed and managed digital activities in agency networks like MediaCom and Aegis. He then went on to develop and manage the cross-media marketer Score Media. © Ebiquity

For conventional media, media companies produce content under the strict eye of the media authorities. Internet content can be created by anyone and depict everything from pornography to violence. As such, it can be an unsafe environment for brands. This is how Christian Zimmer, Managing Director Media DACH at the marketing consultancy Ebiquity, describes it. In this interview with DMEXCO, he explains how marketers can better sound out the environment to ensure safe placement of their brand.


At a recent print media event, Telekom Media CEO Norman Wagner declared that the digital ecosystem is broken. The usual programmatic delivery does not allow a marketer to determine where their advertising material will end up. What does the increasing criticism by marketers of a lack of brand safety mean for brand management?

The lack of brand safety poses a further challenge for brand management, which is often underestimated, as digital advertising has always focused strongly on sales and is separate from conventional media planning. Division into silos is also reinforced by different key figures and measuring methods, thus preventing a holistic view. Target group reach can only be measured by means of an ex-post analysis, which of course requires more effort. I think saying the digital ecosystem is broken is more of a provocative thesis stated within the context of a specific event.


Suppose a brand message is broadcast as a preroll before a fail video. These clips show accidents or other mishaps that users like to watch. But what if a car brand appears reliable in this environment?

“Of course, the content in the advertising environment has a radiating effect on the brand shown. Marketers therefore have to create white and black listings to exclude unsafe environments and avoid unwanted effects.”


What if the commercial video appears on Youtube? Are marketers supposed to shut out the entire canal?

“No. But they should speak with their media agency and with Google about a satisfactory solution for the company, because environments with a lot of user-generated are always a risk. Brand management is in the hands of the advertisers. The media agency and the actual media then have to implement the defined specifications. Monitoring is essential to be able to respond promptly and effectively to problems.

However, for some advertisers the ultimate goal is maximum reach. Otherwise they would not be advertising in the trash television environment. At first the German version of I’m a Celebrity was not an option for many marketers, but then an increasing number of brands presented themselves there, including McDonald’s.

A distinction must be made between trash and brand safe environments, because a trash environment may not match the brand’s positioning in terms of content, but still be brand safe. Environments like I’m a Celebrity, which have extraordinarily high reach across all target group segments, are quite rare. Advertisers can decide for themselves whether they want to use the high reach for their marketing communication. One’s own gut feeling should be the first warning sign against many critical environments. Violence, drugs and sex are to be excluded from the outset. But apart from that, it is impossible to make a general assessment of whether an environment is good or bad.”


Is there a difference in how advertising environments on TV or video portals influence the advertising impact?

“The effects of the environments in which a brand presents itself are always the same, regardless of whether in print, TV or online. They also strongly depend on the type of advertising used. For example, sponsoring has a higher effect than mere placement in the advertising block. The usage situation also plays a role: whether relaxed on the sofa watching moving image content or on a smartphone while waiting at the train station. Ultimately, the choice of media and environment depends on the campaign briefing. In general, however, every advertising contact has an influence on the brand, because consumers usually buy products they know. The digital ecosystem can be used to achieve this, too. It is not broken, but it has to solve its problems.”


What are they?

“Despite all progress, the digital ecosystem remains intransparent. Not all ads are visible, not all reach the defined target group, and fraudulent traffic is generated by bots. Ad verification vendors are creating measurement techniques for more and more issues to meet these challenges. However, these tasks distract from the actual core objective, namely the effect on sales and corporate profit. Advertisers can solve this issue independently by creating white and black listings. In this way, brands can rule out unsuitable environments for themselves from the outset.”


The bottom line:

Brand safety as well as problems with ad fraud, target group fitness and visibility are causing problems for the digital ecosystem. Advertisers can get active themselves by defining their own goals and targets, and then specifying them to their agencies. Black and white listings can be used to mitigate the risk of being placed in unsafe environments. The good news is that placement in safe brand environments is feasible.