The context of an advertisement is as essential as the message itself. For a brand, it is disastrous to see its image associated with hate speech, violence or pornographic content. That’s why brand safety must be an integral part of any marketing strategy to ensure a good environment for content distribution. In the digital world, programmatic and influencer marketing bring new challenges.

Brand safety in the age of programmatic marketing

2017 was peppered with several scandals in particular the one that touched YouTube, revealed by several articles in the Times. The video platform, owned by Google, went through a particularly eventful year marked by the withdrawal of many brands furious and horrified to see their ads placed before hateful, terrorist or even pedophile content.

YouTube has been shaken by successive scandals regarding the advertising distribution environment, causing the withdrawal of many firms from the platform. (Photo credit: freestocks, Pexels)

But digital advertising is still growing strongly and programmatic display has even become the commonplace. In France, it now accounts for two thirds of display advertising. Social networks are contributing a good part of this growth, with social media now representing 46 percent of display advertising according to a report (in French) by the SRI, a French digital advertising association.

Programmatic advertising has brought major change, the transactions are very often operated by RTB (Real Time Bidding) using an ad exchange and the distribution is carried out in milliseconds according to an algorithmic system defining the contexts in which advertisements appear. A reliable technique on the face of it and which has demonstrated it ability to better reach targets and perform well. However, the method has limits in terms of brand safety. Traditional prevention techniques, such as blacklisting, are becoming more and more obsolete.

Brand safety: influencers and social networks

Added to this is the fact that social networks like Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat seem to have difficulty providing a safe environment. They are being used increasingly for the distribution of varied types of ads but they are also spaces where fake news, click fraud, fake accounts and more or less hateful content are common and as such are sources of risk for brands. Therefore the young industry that is influencer marketing must respond to concerns and adopt brand safety.


Fake news, click fraud, hate content and fake accounts are problems and risks on social networks for brands. (Photo credit: Kai pilger, Unsplash)

It is essential to combat click fraud and thoroughly vet influencers, ensure that they actually exist and find out if they are in line with the image conveyed by a brand. Finally, the (once-off) use of mega influencers is certainly sometimes an advantage for visibility but carries a danger if an influencer causes or becomes entangled in a scandal. This is why campaigns with micro influencers should be considered, it brings improved safety and also good performance as we indicated in the article on influencer marketing trends in 2018.

Brand safety solutions and tools

However, there are tools and processes available for brand safety, even if they are still relatively unknown and not used enough. And transparency needs to be strengthened in terms of collaboration, especially with publishers.

Firstly, brands and advertisers need to define guidelines and define undesirable content to better communicate environmental requirements. Working with partners who have TAG (Trustworthy Accountability Group) certification is a guarantee of quality. Finally, reducing the number of intermediaries also helps to keep better control of the process.

Defining a desirable distribution environment, writing white lists and working with vetting companies help to achieve brand safety. (Photo credit: Start up stocks, pexels)

The use of third-party media quality control companies is obviously recommended to measure brand safety with scores given by analysing URLs, keywords, links or geolocation, etc. Targeting or pre-bid optimization is also an interesting tool to better secure (via keywords) content before purchase.

The use of whitelisting rather than just blacklisting… Attempting to create an exhaustive blacklist can become very difficult in view of the volumes. Creating whitelists of verified and respectable sites is a more effective way to define a secure environment. The goal is also to focus on quality over quantity.

Brand safety is not just about brands, it’s also an issue for websites and apps. The scandals are bad for all market players, which has prompted Google and Facebook to react. Both companies are updating algorithms and usage policies, even if in terms of transparency, much remains to be done.