What is Brand Safety? And Why is it Important for Publishers And Advertisers?

Generally, brand safety refers to doing your best to protect your brand's reputation while advertising online. This usually involves making sure that your advertisement (or logo) does not accidentally appear alongside unsavory, inappropriate, or irrelevant content when advertising online.

Typical examples of brands appearing in a "unsafe" environment would be an airline ad next to an article about a plane crash or an ad for a cookie brand next to an article about the benefits of gluten-free eating.

In the digital age, where advertising impressions are sourced and sold in fractions of seconds, it is vitally important for marketers to know how to control how the ads appear based on the context in which they appear.

There are a number of challenges to brand safety that marketers need to be aware of. 

There are several categories of brand safety, including:

In the area of brand safety, one challenge is how to implement homophones to shield brand owners from the possibility of becoming associated with questionable content.

However, without context, keyword lists can flag neutral, or even positive, content by default. Consider the word “shot.” 

Several brands may worry about their advertisements being placed alongside articles that mention guns and violence, but the term “shot” could refer to inoculations (not just about guns), sports, photography, or the “Hamilton” smash hit, “My Shot.”

Another  challenge is shifting contexts. For example, let's say a family-oriented brand wants to avoid being associated with anything related to adult content, so they mark certain words, including swear words.

Hearst UK complained of some of their content being blocked, thus resulting in lost ad revenue, because of references to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex , due to the last three letters of “Sussex.

”Thirdly, 2020 was the year of the biggest challenge in the advertising industry, COVID-19. Many Advertisers were worried by potential damage to their brands simply by proximity to COVID headlines, even if the story was positive such as the Vaccine rollout. Others however, such as hand sanitizer or soap companies, for example, might want their ads to appear next to articles about the coronavirus.

A growing brand safety concern is fake news, defined here as untrue or made-up news stories. ‘Fake news’ continues to be a growing concern in branding and safety. The only way to combat this trend  is constant vigilance, actual eyeballs on screen and actively blocking Ads via DSPs from appearing in these sites. 

This is also very much true for  extremist or hate-mongering sites, or next to extremist content. When it comes to sites with user-generated content, brands have little control over the content their ads appear alongside, unless they they actively  to block those sites entirely.