Brand safety promises from the ‘premium’ publishers need to be challenged

Premium publishers continue to insist they provide ultimate brand safety, while in reality, ads for baby skincare play before brutal footage of dictators being beaten to death, reveals Nic Halley.

The publishing giants in digital media would have you believe that bigger is better when it comes to guaranteeing brand safety online. In the immortal words of Flavor Flav: “don’t believe the hype”. No one’s internet is more reliable than anyone else’s. Publications can’t assure brand safety, only you can.

Last week I attended a Mumbrella360 session where a News Corp representative asserted that you could only trust a ‘premium publisher’ when it comes to guaranteeing brand safety online. Hypocritical I thought, given that a lot of what was being defined as ‘not brand safe’ was home page content on News.com.au or Daily Telegraph on any given day.

Case-in-point, I decided to conduct a quick experiment and took some snapshots of News Corp’s home page content. Along with the relentless ‘wardrobe malfunctions’ and basic nudity pieces, was the horrific footage of Muammar Gaddafi being beaten to death sat alongside an Aveena Baby pre-roll, and a particularly creepy piece about how ‘former’ child star Dakota Fanning now looks in a bikini. These were just a snapshot of what I observed, and I wonder how ‘safe’ these brands would feel about their placements?

As everyone in the industry is aware, digital media, and programmatic in particular, have borne the brunt of recent brand safety issues. Internet search giants and large publishers have made global headlines. Think YouTube, which recently faced a crisis when adverts for American brands including AT&T and Verizon appeared alongside ISIS video content. Closer to home, Holden and Kia pulled ads from YouTube after they discovered their ad content featured next to anti-feminist videos.

Brand safety can be a difficult issue to police but it can be overcome if marketers start to take responsibility and pay attention to how their media is being managed and how the subsequent placement reflects their values. Despite News Corp’s claim, the fact is no digital publisher of scale can guarantee brand safety.

The sheer volume of content and the rapidly changing nature of the industry make it unrealistic to say this is an issue that can be constantly monitored or entirely stamped out.

But it can be mitigated. Everyone needs to have a frank conversation around what is achievable and take control or face being caught out. Marketers need to apply a rigorous discipline to consistency and reason, in how and where their brand appears online.

This includes understanding how money is being spent and staying across which ads are performing better than others and why. Some questions you should be asking yourself as a marketer: do you know what brand safety means to you? And more importantly, what are you doing about it?

A ‘one size fits all’ approach just won’t fly. Brand safety won’t, and shouldn’t, be the same for everyone. A male deodorant product (looking at you Lynx) sitting next to risqué content might be perfect for their audience, but obviously wouldn’t work for all brands. As a marketer, you need to know who you are targeting, what they are looking at, their (and your) tolerances and limits.

Being overly safe can, on the flipside, also pose a serious brand dilemma. Do you opt for indiscriminate and wide reach with the threat of compromising brand safety, or critically target your spend but only reach a very small audience via a small number of platforms? A delicate balance comes into play here where risk needs to be carefully managed.

It’s also about quality over quantity, and at the end of the day – efficiency. It shouldn’t just be a race to the bottom for cost per thousand (CPM) – cheap CPMs and cost per clicks (CPCs) generally equate to crap inventories laden with issues.

Correctly using supply chain tools such as comScore and Integral Ad Science can be a much more accurate way to evaluate and manage how your ads are performing online.

It’s also about stepping away from simply ‘setting and forgetting’, and building up your black and white lists to block channels where you don’t want your content to appear. Basically, it’s work.

Looking at the big picture, developing transparent relationships with agencies and being clear on the ownership of your data is also critical to taking responsibility for how and where your brands appear online.

A collaborative approach will enable you to track where your consumers view your content directly and therefore reduce your risk of unsafe branding. Long-term ownership of data IP can also provide the ability to respond to trends, spikes in activity and even predict your target audiences’ needs.

Marketers and agencies will always need to work with the likes of News Corp, YouTube and Google that dominate the online media space, but in an ever-changing environment that’s being constantly updated with new content, their promises should come with a stamp of ‘buyer’s beware’.

My advice: follow those who are seeking the truth and mistrust those who claim to have found it.

Nic Halley is the founder of specialist digital marketing and media consultancy Mindbox.


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