What is Brand Safety?: Definition, Guidelines, and Strategy for Publishers

Brand safety came to the light in 2017 as multiple incidents of ad placements alongside compromised content started surfacing. Since then, it’s become an important concern for many seasoned publishers, high-profile brands, and eventually, the entire digital ecosystem. 

A report by Daw Jones reveals that 72 percent of marketers are concerned about brand integrity and control when it comes to their programmatic ad investments, and more than a quarter have actually experienced such incidents. 

For publishers and content creators to derive maximum programmatic ad effectiveness publishers, they need to focus on high-quality content. But that’s only a fraction of a successful brand safety strategy. Let’s unfold how publishers of all sizes and niches can ensure to become a safe place for an advertiser’s ad investments. 

What is brand safety?

Brand safety refers to the measures taken by publishers to avoid illegal, unsafe, or inappropriate content on their platforms. But the question is ‘what accounts for inappropriate content?’ 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau states, “Brand safety is in the eye of the beholder — it all depends on what is or is not appropriate for the brand.” But the contradiction between the context of the content and the ad displayed next to is a clear violation of brand safety. For example- an ad for a leather purse placed next to a content piece about sustainable fashion. This type of juxtaposition can harm the reputation of the content creator as well as the advertiser’s brand.

However, brand safety alone cannot be responsible for aligning content with the brand’s product and value proposition. It has to be paired with Brand Suitability

What is Brand Suitability?

Brand suitability is an extended or rather, an evolved version of brand safety. It is the practice wherein publishers identify and decide the appropriate ad space for the advertiser on their website. Brand suitability is about maximizing the advertiser’s ad investment by displaying their ads beside contextual and high-quality content. For, instance, placing an ad about PlayStation next to a content piece of ‘video games for kids’ instead of placing it next to ‘negative effects of excessive screen time’.

What is the difference between brand safety and brand suitability?

Brand safety and brand suitability are interrelated. The difference between the two is nuanced. It is a matter of avoidance and allowance. Avoiding inappropriate content and allowing ads next to contextually appropriate content define brand safety and brand suitability practices respectively. Publishers should simultaneously focus on both as combined they are responsible for aligning content with brand values and reputation. 

What are the brand safety standards provided by authorities?

In today’s ad tech industry, sentiment analysis paired with contextual targeting and content verification holds the top seat in ad placement criteria. Advertisers work with ad verification partners to ensure the same. 

Many advertising authorities and organizations have released multiple guidelines over the years that these partners, agencies, and marketers use to practice brand safety. These standards are in a perpetual state of alteration to ensure that their advertising practices are responsible, ethical, and in line with consumer expectations. 

Here are some of the brand safety guidelines that publishers can refer to:

  1. Advertising Assurance- 4A’s Brand Safety Floor and Framework (4A)
  2. IAB Tech Lab’s Content Taxonomy (IAB)
  3. IAB’s New Ad Portfolio- Advertising Creative Guidelines (IAB)
  4. Guidelines for the Conduct of Ad Verification (IAB)
  5. Media Rating Council Brand Safety Reference Guidelines (MRC)

Brand Safety Strategy for Publishers

  1. Focus on analytics

Publishers should use analytics to track metrics such as the nature of their audience, content performance, traffic source, etc. This information can be used by publishers to attract advertisers who want to target the audience segmentation that they offer. They can tailor advertising strategies and ensure that the content and ads are relevant to the audience, reducing the risk of inappropriate or offensive content being displayed. Furthermore, tracking the analytics helps publishers to monitor the campaign performance and track relevant metrics such as ad engagement and bounce rates. 

  1. Attract valid traffic

Valid traffic can be defined as users who are actively engaged with the website and its content, and who are likely to have a genuine interest in the products or services being advertised. This includes users who have actively searched for the website or its content, as well as those who have been directed to the website through organic or paid marketing channels. Displaying contextually appropriate ads is half the battle won. Publishers need to seal the deal by ensuring these ads are reaching relevant audiences. This can be fulfilled by ensuring that publishers and content creators generate valid traffic and surveil it regularly. 

Advertisers are looking for active and engaging audiences to target as they drive ad viewability and ROI. This can impact the brand safety of a publisher, as well as the performance of advertising campaigns on the website. 

  1. Eliminate bot traffic

Publishers have to actively work on eliminating bot traffic. Invalid traffic, such as bots or other automated scripts, does not provide any value for publishers or advertisers. This type of traffic does not result in meaningful engagement or conversions, and can even harm the performance of advertising campaigns by skewing analytics data. Third-party cookies are infamously known to be the gateways for bot traffic. Publishers can ameliorate this situation by initiating first-party data collection and preparing for the depreciation of third-party cookies. Other ways to avoid bot traffic also include CAPTCHA, browser fingerprinting, and pixel tracking. 

  1. Work with relevant ad networks

Publishers should partner with ad networks that are reputable and abide by brand safety guidelines. Even better if they have set their own standards as per their pool of advertisers and audience segmentation. An efficient ad network can help implement filters to screen out inappropriate content from the publisher’s website reducing the risk of ads appearing in offensive environments. Different ad networks may have different guidelines to ensure brand safety, as well as what types of content are deemed inappropriate or harmful. Publishers must carefully analyze these aspects before choosing the relevant ad network. 

  1. Direct advertisement

Veteran publishers or walled gardens (e.g., Amazon, Apple) who have a substantial audience are moving towards direct advertisement as means of practicing brand safety. These large-scale publishers often have their own ad servers and their own guidelines for brand safety. They control both the content and the technology used to access that content. They also have their own advertising solutions and data. However, direct advertising may not be a pragmatic choice for small-scale publishers. Maybe in the future when the ad tech industry thrives solely on first-party data. 

The past few years have been turbulent. And as we enter another year subject to the economic slowdown, publishers should monitor its impact on consumer behavior and ad demands. In challenging times like these, community and trust become the cornerstone of successful ad campaigns. As brand safety standards continue to evolve, publishers must keep an eye out for them. On their half, they should commit to excellence by analyzing the quality of their content to emerge as leaders and maximize their ad revenue. 

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