It’s Time to Implement Brand Safety Without Second Thought

It needs to be a guarantee, not a lengthy conversation

It's what consumers deserve. Getty Images
Headshot of Nicole McCormack

It’s so true that we need brand safety that we shouldn’t actually be talking about it anymore. It should just be the norm and part of what we do. Why then, in 2018, where we live in the most connected, technology-savvy media environments of all time, is it still a problem? It shouldn’t be a differentiator; it has to be the baseline.

The advertising and media industry needs to take a hard look at itself to guarantee brand safety, bolster quality placements, cut out alignment with objectionable content and ensure that the technology solutions align with consumer behavior.

I’m therefore calling on all of us—brands, publishers, agencies, ad tech, platforms—to agree to a set of minimum attitudes, or first principles, that we can all align with. Of course, trade organizations are vital to this initiative and ensure cross-industry guidance on important topics, but real change comes from within. To make brand safety part of the everyday, there are three key mindsets that need to change.

Focus on the consumer first

I’m therefore calling on all of us—brands, publishers, agencies, ad tech, platforms—to agree to a set of minimum attitudes, or first principles, that we can all align with.

Media owners and platforms are nothing without their audiences. And while volume is important, simply creating and promoting sensationalism and clickbait with the single goal of generating more engagement/inventory is not sustainable. Consumers can lose loyalty and trust, which are fundamental to long-term relationships. Additionally, endless re-targeting can frustrate users and make them believe their data is being abused. Instead, we all need to ensure we’re providing a user experience that respects the consumer.

Technology needs to go further

There are incredible technologies that brands can employ to ensure their campaigns are safe and secure while also reaching consumers. However, while these are invaluable tools for the modern marketer, they are not integrated into most in-app environments. With most digital time spent now in mobile apps, there is a gap between consumer behavior and the third-party technologies that many brands rely on for brand safety. We have to close this gap.

Secondly, it’s essential to include a human element and not just rely on automation to guide the algorithms. A machine cannot always know what content is appropriate for a brand’s ad to be placed against, even with automated blacklisting and whitelisting solutions. While AI and machine learning solutions can be used to help these technologies learn what makes an appropriate placement, it takes time—which the ad industry doesn’t have. What was appropriate can rapidly change, making online a constantly tricky landscape to traverse.

By incorporating people like trained journalists and qualified advertising teams into the buying, selling and curation mix, any next-generation media company can radically reduce brand safety issues. It’s something we shouldn’t just be aiming for; it has to be the standard, not a differentiator.

Continue to be bold

One of the problems the brand safety discourse creates is that brands can sometimes hold back on their marketing. Advertising is an art form, and we need to be bold. There are always going to be risks, and those brands prepared to be different are likely to reap the rewards.

Take Nike’s campaign with Colin Kaepernick for example. It took the risk to engage the former NFL player in what it undoubtedly knew would be politically charged ads. Regardless of the reaction, it generated conversation and worked in Nike’s favor. That’s a risk worth taking. If a Nike ad had appeared against distressing or extremist content, it degrades the entire ecosystem. Unfortunately, such situations make brands risk-averse.

Soon we can hopefully think of brand safety as simply “that problem we used to worry about” and not an issue that’s endlessly in the news and on panels for all the wrong reasons. By working together and applying these mindsets, the whole industry will be able to make it the standard of any campaign, not something that keeps brands up at night.


Nicole McCormack is svp, revenue strategy and operation at Flipboard.