For marketers, the brand is the most sacred asset. We have to build it, and we have to protect it.
In recent years, relying on online social and digital platforms has presented serious problems for brand safety. There have been various instances where brands are showing up in places they shouldn’t be. Marketers are being forced to think of strategies to ensure the company isn’t being represented in a harmful context.
Consider, for example, a company that sells candy. If its ad plays on YouTube before a video about sugar being unhealthy, this would denigrate the brand and effectively negate the promotion.
But the problem runs deeper than these sorts of contextual clashes. The platforms that host content share the ad revenue, supplied by brands with the content creators. Meaning that brands are unwillingly funding the bad actors that create malcontent in the process.
In a survey, 90% of consumers said they feel that brands bear the responsibility for ensuring their ads run beside content that is safe. And what is even more telling is that 61% of users believe that both the brand and the hosting platform are equally responsible to keep the content safe.
When brands advertise online, they are often blind to exactly where their messages will be placed because the audience is selected by algorithms. Because 300 hours of content is uploaded to YouTube every minute, it makes sense that online platforms would rely on these programmatic techniques to accommodate the enormous scale.
Of course, this problem hasn’t gone unaddressed. Online platforms have introduced new measures, and as marketers, we’ve seen some incremental improvements, such as content selection tools and brand safety report cards. But there is no cross‐platform alignment, and there is still not enough accountability.
Brand safety encompasses financial risk, reputational risk and consumer risk. And the changes so far have not been enough—nowhere near enough.
Until recently, most brand safety conversations were dealt with on a case by case basis. But isolated talks between the brand and the platform haven’t been enough to create meaningful change. In order to find effective scalable solutions, we need dialogue at the global industry level.
To this end, a consortium of brand owners, under the leadership of the World Federation of Advertisers, launched GARM, the Global Alliance for Responsible Media. This charter includes 26 global companies (such as P&G, Unilever and Mastercard) along with the top media agency holding companies and social networks. Together, we’re collaborating with publishers and platforms to do more to address harmful and misleading media environments and to deliver a set of protocols for protecting brands.
The reality is that, in the present climate, there’s no such thing as absolutely being brand safe. Marketers today have to decide on the level of risk they’re willing to take on. While there’s the danger of exposure in every form of media, the digital space has definitely presented pervasive perils. And social media has given consumers new opportunities to call brands out directly. If your brand is placed in a harmful context, someone is going to notice.
The entire digital ecosystem is kept afloat by the money marketers spend on ads. It is ethical to put our mouth where our money is, which is to say that we need to demand change and ensure the ecosystem is geared up to deliver on our standards.