The top three common misconceptions about brand safety

01/18 By Brad Timmers

When people explain brand safety, they typically use an example of how things can go wrong in a display campaign. One classic example is an ad for a family-focused brand appearing on a website with adult content. Another example is an ad for an airline running beside a news article about a plane crash.

Such a careless insertion of an ad could start a public relations firestorm and ultimately damage a brand’s reputation. A brand safety system is all about preventing these kinds of things from happening. These examples are vivid and easy to understand, but they can make brand safety sound simpler than it is.

Misconception #1: Brand safety is just about domain exclusion lists

One approach to enforcing brand safety is to simply draw up an exclusion list of websites and apps that you know have inappropriate content, and then avoid buying impressions from any properties on that list.

While this approach has some merit, it also has several serious drawbacks:

  • Lack of precision: If you block an entire domain because some of its pages are unsavory, you lose out on the scale you could achieve with other, high-quality pages in that same domain.
  • The never-ending story: A domain exclusion list has to be constantly expanded as new properties are being created every day.
  • Spoofing: Bad actors know their website is on your list and will fraudulently sell it under a name you trust instead.

Misconception #2: Brand safety is just about keywords

Recognizing that a domain exclusion list can both limit scale and fail to stop bad content, some advertisers and vendors believe the solution is to simply compile lists of unsavory keywords and phrases. This way, instead of blocking, say, an entire news site, they can block just its articles about those specific keywords.

However, this approach is fraught with issues, as the following real-world examples show:

  • Same spelling, different word: Many topics have abbreviations associated with them, which could translate as everyday words. For example, an advertiser looking to avoid content about terrorism might add the abbreviation for Islamic State, “IS,” to their exclusion list. But “IS”, to a computer, looks the same as “is,” and that advertiser could accidentally end up blocking a majority of the web.
  • Same word, different use: Some words, like “kill”, for example, basically have only one meaning – but can nonetheless be used both metaphorically (no issue) and literally (a big issue). Whether a word like “kill” is acceptable or not depends on its context, which can’t be captured in a simple list.
  • Same spelling, different language: When you’re running a campaign across publishers worldwide, numerous multi-language issues arise. For example, the word “bimbo” is another way to say “little boy” in Italian, but is considered a derogatory term in English.

Overall, while keywords can be a useful component of a brand safety system, they’re not the end-all-be-all.

Misconception #3: Brand safety is a solved problem

There are a number of new frontiers in brand safety that are only just being addressed:

  • Video brand safety: As the amount of digital video content grows, there will need to be more oversight of the brand safety of that content. Online video content can be just as risky as textual content – you don’t want your ad running as a pre-roll before an ISIS beheading, for instance. TV buyers who oversee digital video budgets may have a false sense of confidence here, because they’re used to linear broadcast content, which is always clean and well-regulated. This is not the case in the Wild West of the Internet.
  • In-app brand safety: Media spend is shifting heavily toward the app ecosystem, where we see an array of various types of content; from social media to dating apps, gaming apps, and news. And because this space acts differently than traditional web, the content doesn’t fall as easily into the same categories.  Taking a closer look at a user’s in-app behavior and experience in order to analyze the brand safety also brings up privacy concerns that must be addressed.
  • Location-based brand safety: Location-based targeting is becoming more and more popular for advertisers as they look to connect with consumers in a specific time and place. The overnight sensation Pokémon Go grew a massive audience in a matter of hours and led to amazing location-based options for ad insertion. What many may not realize is that, due to the nature of the game, consumers were sometimes led to inappropriate locations. As location-based advertising grows, this type of brand safety will become more urgent to address.

Protecting brand safety is harder than ever. As new media formats continue to emerge, brand safety systems must evolve along with them and address the concerns unique to each.

This article was published in MarTech Advisor.