August 1, 2017
Why Brand Safety Isn't Just A Big Deal For Big Brands
By James G. Brooks Jr.

Brand safety is a perennial issue that became a top-of-mind issue this year. A-list brands like Mercedes, PepsiCo and Walmart got pulled into crises when their ads were placed before YouTube videos with objectionable messages. 

At first blush, this might seem like an issue that only Fortune 500 brands need to worry about, but brand safety matters for fledgling brands and small businesses, too. Arguably, the risks are higher. If a major brand runs a preroll ad before an offensive YouTube video, it can issue an apology and run millions of dollars of advertising elsewhere to make consumers forget. If a local business does the same, it could easily trigger a word-of-mouth backlash among likely customers that could kill the brand’s momentum. 

The challenge for smaller businesses is that they are usually struggling to get their names out and the bigger platform, the better. That can lead to dodgy placements via Google’s algorithm. Here are four ways to avoid that scenario: 

1. Pay attention to where your brand is being seen. Platforms with a large amount of user-generated content will give you scale. The downside is that much of the content there can’t be policed. There’s just too much of it. Some 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute, for instance. Though Google is using AI to attempt to ensure YouTube content is brand-safe, there’s no way it will be able to address subtleties in language and subject matter that will ensure brand safety. Buying via Google’s self-service platform is easy and will target users by interest and keyword, but if you work directly with publishers, you will have a much higher degree of brand safety. 

2. Use seasoned media buyers. Make sure you have teammates or use outside firms that are experts in booking media and ensuring its brand safety during campaign delivery. It’s not advisable to book a campaign, launch it and allow it to passively run without taking a proactive approach to monitoring content and steering it to brand-safe environments. You want a team on hand that is experienced in steering campaigns into brand-safe environments.

3. Make use of tagging. Lay on as many third-party tracking tools as you can. Such tools disincentivize anyone you’re working with from putting your brand in potential harm’s way. If the perception is that you’re tracking everything that’s being done, then the chances that someone will traffic your ad on questionable sites to save money will fall. That can happen if you work with an ad-buying partner or intermediary that’s focused on scale without regard to quality. 

4. Avoid negative attention. Pepsi’s recent fiasco with its Kendall Jenner ad shows that there is such a thing as bad press after all. Any ad that seeks to make a statement about a divisive political issue (in Pepsi’s case, Black Lives Matter) potentially can land a brand in brand-unsafe territory. For small and fledgling brands, it can be tempting to pursue publicity at any price and consider outrageous stunts to get the brand’s name out there. This approach can backfire though. Just because someone knows your name doesn’t mean that they’ll want to spend money with you. 

The latter points may not strike you as relating to “brand safety.” But brand safety isn’t just about an ad showing up next to the wrong media. These days, brand safety is more about the integrity of a message. Entrepreneurs should know the difference between building a brand that will last and merely building brand awareness.

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