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Hackernoon logoBrand Safety and the Challenges of Digital Advertising by@aronfrosty

Brand Safety and the Challenges of Digital Advertising

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SEO Lead at digital marketing agency in Hong Kong. Big on UX, analytics and conversions.

It is estimated that in 2019, digital advertising spending in the world amounted to a staggering $333 billion. This means that almost 50% of the total advertising budget worldwide was spent on digital advertising. As businesses realize the value of digital advertising, there is an increasing need to also understand the challenges that it brings.

One such challenge is the difficulty to make sure that ads go in the right places and to the right audience. For instance, in 2015, ads for Aveeno and Bud Light were played right at the beginning of YouTube videos about ISIS and terrorist propaganda. Their mother companies, Johnson & Johnson and Anheuser-Busch, were not happy to find their ads alongside these extremist videos. Instead of boosting their brands, those digital ads
ended up hurting their reputation. 

This issue has become a real concern for many businesses, which is why a strategy called brand safety is growing in popularity among marketers.

Forbes defines brand safety as the set of measures that a business implements to make sure that their online advertisements are not published in places that might harm the company’s image. If your company runs digital advertisements but does not have a brand safety strategy yet, the following steps should help you create one.

Define What Brand Safety Means to Your Business

Although the concept of brand safety is universal, its meaning can vary from one business to another. If your brand sells lingerie, your brand safety measures will be different from brand safety measures taken by a toy company.

If you are a lingerie company, it may not be advisable for you to run ads on videos where the primary audience are kids. If you are a toy company, however, those kinds of videos are exactly where you want to place your ads.

According to DigiDay, there are 12 toxic areas which may hurt your brand online:

  • Adult
  • Death or Injury
  • Military conflict
  • Spam or harmful site
  • Arms
  • Online piracy
  • Obscenity
  • Terrorism
  • Crime
  • Hate speech
  • Illegal drugs
  • Tobacco

Take the time to evaluate which of these toxic areas you want to avoid the most, and which ones may sometimes be acceptable for your brand to be associated with. If you are a brand like Marlboro, for example, then you most likely will want to be associated with tobacco-related content. However, if you are a health-focused brand like Decathlon, then you probably want to avoid websites related to tobacco and related vices.

Use Ad Technology

A survey by Network Research shows that 20% of consumers prefer brands who advertise on credible websites, and that 19% of consumers will view a brand in a negative light if they see an advertisement in a non-credible website. With fake news and bots on the rise, it is becoming difficult to distinguish the trustworthy websites from untrustworthy ones.

For instance, in 2019, Procter and Gamble (P&G)’s Febreze brand was hailed as the “most fooled” brand when it came to bots. Analysis showed that 54% of engagement on its sponsored Instagram posts came from fake accounts. These bots wasted millions of P&G’s marketing budget.

Thankfully, there are powerful advertising technologies available that can help your brand or your ad agency spot fake news. Utilize these technologies to reduce the time spent on finding the ideal online spaces to place your ads. There are also automated advertising tools that will let you know how much of your online reach and engagement are from real humans as opposed to bots.

Add a Human Component to Your Ad Verification Process

Although ad technology can help you weed out the bots and fake news, sometimes the context of ad placement is still best understood by humans. Whether your brand’s digital advertising is ran in-house or outsourced to an external digital agency, there are human-centred processes you can put in place to verify that your advertisements are in safe and relevant places.

There are many cases where humans can understand the context of an advertisement better than Artificial Intelligence can. For example, while ad technology may think that a news website is a credible place to place your ads on, humans are still better judgers of the appropriateness of news articles within that website.

See the news article below about a teacher who was hit by a car outside a school. Toyota’s ad placement in that article definitely seems inappropriate.  A human was most likely not a part of Toyota’s verification process for this digital ad. If a human was present in the process, the ad would most likely not have made it in this article.

Establish a Takedown Policy

Sometimes, regardless of the brand safety measures you put in place, your ads may still end up in the wrong place. When that happens, it is important to respond quickly. Establishing a takedown policy allows you to mitigate any potential negative impacts from the controversial ad placement.

Whether you are running your own digital ads or have a third-party agency that does it for you, your contracts with publishers or digital agencies must clearly state that you have the right to take down any advertisement you want removed. It must specify the acceptable timeframe required for publishers to remove the ads quickly. Your contracts with agencies and publishers must also include consequences for them if they choose not to take down ads at your request. This gives you control over your advertising placements.

The Impact of Brand Safety

One misplaced ad could hurt your brand’s reputation for a long time and can seriously impact your company’s revenues. A 2018 study revealed that when consumers see brands alongside harmful content, their preference for that brand drops significantly. Furthermore, the study showed that consumers’ willingness to purchase from a brand whose ad was seen alongside a negative content dropped by 200%.

Investing resources into an effective brand safety strategy can therefore generate great returns for your business. As digital advertising continues to grow, it is important to make sure that your business employs a holistic approach that uses both technology and human components to ensure that your ads are in appropriate places and are directed to relevant audiences.


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