Brand Safety: How to Protect Your Brand Reputation
Like other intangible online assets, your brand reputation is prone to be sabotaged. This is why brand safety should be an essential part of your business strategy, and here’s everything you need to know about it.
A children’s toy company wouldn’t want its ads next to violent or adult content. Likewise, a luxury brand may not want its ads to appear next to low-quality or controversial content that could tarnish its image.
According to IAB Europe studies from February 2023, almost 70% of responders agree that brand safety was a key priority for the industry in 2022. This guide will teach you how to protect your company’s reputation and implement correct brand safety measures.
Table of contents:
- What is brand safety?
- Why is brand safety important?
- What is brand suitability?
- How to limit brand safety risks on social media platforms
- Programmatic advertising
- What to do when things go wrong?
- How to use insights to monitor campaigns in real-time
What is brand safety?
Brand safety is a set of measures, guidelines, and practices aimed at ensuring that a brand’s advertising does not appear in contexts that could harm its reputation. Essentially, it’s about protecting the brand image by controlling the environment in which ads appear, both online and offline. This is particularly important in digital advertising, where programmatic ad placements can sometimes result in brand advertisements appearing next to off-brand, offensive, or controversial content.
Key aspects of brand safety:
- Contextual relevance. Ensuring that the ad content is appropriate for and relevant to the content of the webpage, video, or other media it appears within.
- Quality of placement. Ensuring that ads appear on websites or media outlets that align with the brand’s values and quality standards.
- Content exclusions. Implementing negative keyword lists, blocklists, or other filtering tools to prevent ads from appearing next to specific types of content.
- Compliance and regulation. Ensuring that ad placements comply with industry regulations, which may vary by country. For instance, strict guidelines exist on advertising tobacco, alcohol, or pharmaceuticals.
- Audience targeting. Making sure that the ads are seen by a demographic that is appropriate and intended for the advertised product or service.
- Monitoring and reporting. Regularly check where ads are placed and how they are received to promptly identify and rectify any issues that might harm the brand’s reputation.
- Ethical considerations. Ensuring that the ad placements do not fund or promote hate speech, misinformation, or other harmful content.
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Different platforms and programmatic advertising networks offer various tools and features to help advertisers maintain brand safety. However, 100% safety cannot be guaranteed, so I strongly recommend constant monitoring and adjustments.
Why is brand safety important?
Not caring about your brand safety is a highway to PR crises, a negative brand image, and many other problems concerning reliability and reputation. Brand safety strategy should be integral to your business to mitigate risk and keep a strong, positive image.
Brand safety is crucial for several reasons, each contributing to a brand’s overall health and reputation. Here are some key reasons why it is important:
- Protecting brand reputation. A brand is an intangible asset but has a very real impact on a company’s bottom line. Advertising placements that align poorly with a brand’s identity or values can negatively affect how consumers perceive your brand.
- Customer trust. Trust is the cornerstone of any successful brand-customer relationship. Ad placements in unsafe environments can erode trust, which can be incredibly difficult to rebuild.
- Financial implications. Misplaced content wastes the advertising budget and can lead to a decline in sales if consumers associate the brand with negative or inappropriate content. Furthermore, some platforms may charge penalties for ads that violate their guidelines.
- Legal consequences. Depending on the jurisdiction, there can be legal repercussions for advertising in contexts that are deemed inappropriate or offensive, particularly if the advertising is seen as misleading or inappropriate for the audience it reaches.
- Audience engagement. The effectiveness of your content depends on the right context and target audience. Poor placement results in low engagement, conversion rates, and ROI (Return on Investment).
- Competitive advantage. Brands that successfully manage their safety often have a competitive advantage because they maintain stronger customer relationships.
- Global consistency. Maintaining brand safety can be especially challenging for brands that operate internationally due to different cultural norms and legal frameworks. However, it’s essential for ensuring a consistent brand image worldwide. Consider hiring experts for target markets to avoid problems with law and culture.
- Crisis prevention. Proactively managing where and how your content appears can prevent PR disasters that require time, money, and resources to fix.
- Social responsibility. Ensuring brand safety often aligns with ethical considerations, like not funding websites that promote hate speech or disinformation. A brand with positive values can use its advertising choices to reflect and reinforce those values.
- Influence on partnerships and collaborations. A brand that can reliably maintain a safe and reputable image is more attractive to potential partners, sponsors, or collaborators.
In today’s digital age, where information spreads quickly, and consumer opinions can be rapidly influenced, the importance of brand safety cannot be overstated. Poor brand safety measures can result in immediate backlash, and rectifying a damaged reputation is often far more costly and difficult than preventing issues in the first place.
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What is brand suitability?
While “brand safety” focuses on avoiding harmful or inappropriate content that could damage a brand’s reputation, “brand suitability” goes a step further by ensuring that a brand’s advertisements appear in contexts that are safe, contextually relevant, and suitable for that particular brand.
Brand suitability is about matching a brand’s identity, values, and messaging with the right content environments that amplify or complement those characteristics. It’s a more nuanced and customized approach to content alignment for advertising.
How to limit brand safety risks on social media platforms?
Since we mostly talk about brand safety in the context of advertising online, it’s important to pay closer attention to your social media strategy. Here are some steps you can take to avoid inappropriate or offensive content getting mixed with your brand image.
- Platform familiarization. You need to be aware of each platform’s specific features, ad formats, and targeting options. Each social media network has its own set of tools and settings for advertisers.
- Use whitelists. Create lists of safe accounts, pages, or influencers that align with your brand’s values and reputation. Advertise exclusively or primarily within these environments.
- Implement blacklists. Create lists of keywords, topics, or accounts you want to avoid. Many platforms allow advertisers to exclude specific keywords or subjects from their campaigns. Blacklists will help you avoid getting your ads mixed with inappropriate content.
- Leverage platform safety tools. Most social media platforms offer brand safety tools and settings. These might include content category exclusions, audience targeting restrictions, or third-party brand safety integrations.
- Geo-targeting. Restrict your ads to regions or countries that are relevant to your campaign and where content is less likely to be controversial or misinterpreted.
- Age restrictions. Set age restrictions to ensure your content is only visible to age-appropriate audiences, especially if your product or service isn’t suitable for younger users.
- Monitor comments and engagement. Social media ads often allow for user comments. Monitor these for any inappropriate content or negative sentiment that might arise and respond appropriately. You can also disable comments on certain platforms or posts, though this can limit engagement. You can monitor comments via social media management or social media monitoring tools.
- Regularly review ad placements. Especially if you are using automated or programmatic ad placements. Regularly check where your ads are appearing and make adjustments as needed.
- Collaborate with trusted influencers. Influencer marketing is great, but do research beforehand. If using influencer marketing, partner with influencers with a history of producing brand-safe content and aligning with your brand values.
- Stay updated with platform policies. Social media platforms frequently update their advertising policies. Regularly review these to ensure compliance and understand any new safety features or limitations.
- Educate your team. Ensure that everyone involved in your social media advertising campaigns understands the importance of brand safety and is aware of the tools and strategies available.
- Have a crisis management plan. It’s always better to plan ahead. This should include steps for identifying the issue, communicating internally, addressing the public, and adjusting ad strategies moving forward.
- Use third-party brand safety tools. Consider leveraging brand safety tools or services with advanced monitoring, reporting, and control capabilities. For example, Brand24.
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By being proactive and regularly monitoring campaigns, you can effectively limit your safety risks on social media platforms. However, given the unpredictability of user-generated content, it’s crucial to remain vigilant and adaptive to ensure brand safety.
With the rise of marketing automation, many online advertising tools became available. They all use a technique called programmatic advertising.
Programmatic advertising is the automated buying and selling of online ad space using technology. Instead of traditional methods, where human negotiations and manual insertion orders determine the ad placements, programmatic advertising uses algorithms, real-time data, and software platforms to purchase digital advertising.
Here’s a breakdown of how it works:
- Ad inventory & space. Publishers (websites, apps, digital platforms) offer their available ad space, known as inventory, to ad exchanges.
- Ad exchange. This is like a marketplace where publishers list their ad inventory, and advertisers bid on the available spaces.
- Demand-side platforms (DSPs). These are software platforms used by advertisers to automate the process of buying ad space across a range of sites based on various targeting criteria. Advertisers set their parameters, such as the target audience, budget, type of ad, and more, and the DSP automatically buys ad placements that fit those criteria.
- Supply-side platforms (SSPs). These are used by online publishers to automate the selling of their ad space. SSPs help publishers maximize their revenue by getting the best possible prices for their ad inventory.
- Real-time bidding (RTB). This is a specific type of programmatic advertising. When a user visits a webpage, their information (like location, age, browsing habits, etc.) is sent from the publisher to an ad exchange, which then auctions the ad space to the advertiser willing to pay the highest price, all in real-time. This entire process happens in milliseconds, between when the webpage starts loading and when the ad is displayed to the user.
- Private marketplaces (PMPs). These are exclusive RTB auctions where premium publishers offer their inventory to select advertisers. It’s like a VIP version of the ad exchange.
- Direct programmatic. Publishers and advertisers agree on terms directly, but the ads are still delivered programmatically (automatically).
Key advantages of programmatic advertising include efficiency, precision, real-time analytics, scalability, and flexibility.
However, programmatic advertising has some challenges, such as concerns about ad fraud, brand safety (ads appearing next to controversial content), and issues related to transparency in the ad buying process. This is why choosing a reputable programmatic provider that fits your brand safety measures is important.
What to do when things go wrong?
Despite all safety measures, things can always go wrong, and you must be prepared for that. That’s why I strongly recommend a proactive approach. Nevertheless, if you stumble upon any brand safety issues, you can do numerous things.
- Take immediate action. If your ads appear in inappropriate or harmful contexts, immediately pause the campaign or remove the problematic placements. This helps prevent further harm while you evaluate the situation.
- Document everything. Capture screenshots, URLs, and any other pertinent information about the problematic ad placement or content. This provides a clear incident record, which can be useful for internal reviews, discussions with partners, and potential PR responses.
- Investigate the root cause. Understand why the brand safety breach occurred. Was it a targeting mistake? Did a keyword lead to an inappropriate placement? Was it a failure of a platform’s brand safety measures?
- Engage partners & platforms. Reach out to your advertising partners, agencies, and platforms involved. Discuss the incident and demand clarity on how it occurred. They may offer insights, solutions, or compensation for the oversight.
- Review internal Protocols. Look into your internal processes and checklists. Can you add a step to prevent such incidents in the future? Maybe you need to update your keyword exclusions or refine your targeting parameters.
- Strengthen safety measures. Consider enhancing your safety nets:
- Expand and refine your keyword exclusion lists.
- Utilize whitelists of safe sites or platforms.
- Use third-party brand safety tools or platforms that offer additional layers of protection.
- Explore private marketplaces (PMPs) or direct deals for more controlled placements.
- Communicate with stakeholders. Inform relevant stakeholders internally about the incident. Transparency can help ensure everyone is aligned in addressing the situation and preventing future occurrences.
- Prepare a public response (if necessary).
- If the significant breach has garnered public attention or backlash, consider releasing a statement. Address the issue directly, take responsibility, and outline steps you’re taking to prevent future incidents.
- Use social media, press releases, or direct communication channels as appropriate for your brand and the severity of the incident.
- Review and update the crisis management plan. Post-incident, it’s wise to revisit your crisis management plan (or create one if you didn’t have it). This plan should outline steps to take in various scenarios, roles and responsibilities, and communication strategies.
How to use insights to monitor campaigns in real-time
To pursue a proactive approach, you can use one of the many social listening tools to monitor the performance of your campaigns.
For example, Brand24 is a social media monitoring tool that’s helpful in various PR situations and can be used to ensure brand safety in your company. It monitors all brand or keyword mentions publicly available online and prepares valuable insights based on AI and machine learning.
You can set up keyword alerts for each time your brand or campaign is mentioned in a new source. Should a brand safety incident occur, you will be the first to know.
Brand24 also prepares automatic PDF reports that can be sent directly to your e-mail. You can use the reports to monitor your brand image and measure the sentiment.
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If your brand is mentioned along with any risky content, the tool will show the quotation with a negative sentiment assigned. If it’s a social media conversation, you can quickly jump in and resolve the issue. If it’s an ad that is shown along with some inappropriate content, you can contact the developers and have the ad taken down before your brand reputation takes any damage.