The phrase “brand safety” seems pretty simple.
But is it so easy to achieve while also fulfilling the other needs of a campaign?
Marketers, of course, want their messages shown to verified human beings and to be sure those people can actually see the ads. That’s really just safety – making sure there’s as little fraud and as much viewability as possible.
Brand safety, on the other hand, means the marketers want to know their ads are not next to content that can harm their brands’ reputations.
As AdMonsters chairman Rob Beeler says in a recent brand safety webinar: “A story about a bank failure is not something Wells Fargo wants to be next to.”
The tension between safety and reach
So, a bank like Wells Fargo can use contextual analysis technologies to block its ads from any story that seems to be about bank failure. But what about other arenas that could rattle at least some of a potential customer base?
If an advertiser blocks every adjacency that has any possibility of being dangerous, it can be really hard to reach enough of a target audience to sell enough of what’s being sold.
Some of those audiences may be consuming content on places like Vice, The Daily Beast, Vox Media, and others that cover “risqué” parts of the spectrum, and these days, that’s just in the politics section!
People just don’t spend all day looking at videos of puppies cavorting in sun-filled meadows.
Social’s got a problem
With a lot of users generating their own content with little to no editorial oversight, social media platforms are full of potentially risky stuff. But they’re also where people engage. Avoid all but the safest parts of Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube, and you’ll miss the chance to reach a lot of people, especially those ever-desirable millennials and Gen-Z’ers who follow a lot of social influencers.
Popular social stars like Jenna Marbles and Ryan Higa for example often say some questionable, “stuff,” but they also rack up millions of views from teens and young women who are probably a lot harder to reach using anything more protectedly “mainstream.”
For brands, finding safety while getting the needed reach means deciding on an acceptable level of risk. At least a few impressions of the billions served may always land in environments that aren’t (pinkies up, please) “just-so.”
Marketers also can’t just “set it and forget it.” What’s fine today can be dicey tomorrow. “Ariana Grande was probably safe, but after the incident at her concert, everyone wanted to block their ads from appearing near her name, Beeler notes.
In some ways, the news for marketers is improving. Vendors who promise brand safety are constantly fine-tuning their technologies to accommodate partners’ needs. Language processing is getting better, for example, thanks to developments in AI and machine learning.
The IAB’s ads.txt is also helping brands and publishers avoid would-be evil-doers. The solution uses a bit of code that includes unique identifiers on partners’ servers to help premium publishers and upstanding platforms verify each other’s reputability.
Brands can also turn to the inbox as a more viable way of approaching brand safety. LiveIntent for instance, has a direct relationship with the brands and publishers that make up the inventory. It’s among the most trusted and reputable in the world. And the audience is entirely opted-in and permissioned.
For marketers and their partners, it’s important to remember there’s no one-size-fits-all solution or setting. Pampers and Disney wouldn’t go near some pages that Axe deodorant spray might be glad to find.
So, can all risk be eliminated?
Putting in the work to decide what’s fair game for a given brand definitely helps minimize the risk.