The Ultimate Guide to Brand Safety

July 16, 2021
April 4, 2022
The Ultimate Guide to Brand Safety

In the past, ad revenue was almost solely dependent on contextual targeting, whereby all brands associated with a particular topic would attempt to win ad space next to a related article or site. For example, for a content piece about makeup application, multiple skincare companies would be competing for ad space next to that content.

However, as programmatic advertising took hold and behavioral targeting started to change the algorithms used by Google and YouTube, advertisers began to lose control over where their ads appeared.

Marketers and digital advertising agencies buying ads from Google and other online ad providers found they were no longer buying ad space on specific websites, they were buying ads targeted to people with certain interests or demographic profiles.

In 2017, this led to significant problems for Google, with big brand names AT&T and Verizon suspending their purchase of ads due to their advertising content appearing alongside videos created by terrorist sympathizers.

This brought brand safety to the forefront of digital advertising practices, as companies strive to keep their brand safe by serving ad inventory on websites with an appropriate context for their industry. 

What is Brand Safety?

The International Advertising Bureau (IAB) defines brand safety as the process of keeping a brand's reputation safe when they advertise online. In practice, this means ensuring that ads are not placed next to inappropriate content that will reflect poorly on the brand in the eyes of the consumer.

Brand safety is in the eye of the beholder—it all depends on what is or is not appropriate for the brand. For example, an R-rated action film might have different standards than a baby products company.

— IAB Advertising Quality Measurement Buyer’s Guide

For advertisers and publishers familiar with the term brand suitability, they may wonder what the difference is between brand safety and brand suitability. The answer is that brand suitability is one aspect of brand safety. Brand suitability is a marketing term that refers to brands making suitable and appropriate choices for their industry. This includes choosing ad placements that are relevant for their audience.

Why is Brand Safety Important for Publishers?

While brand safety is gaining awareness in the advertising industry, many small to medium publishers are still in the dark regarding brand safety practices. For more prominent publishers, such as news sites, they are struggling to provide clear guidelines to advertisers around best practices. Consequently, many digital publishers are losing out on valuable monetization opportunities. Understanding brand safety and being able to relay these insights clearly and succinctly to brand advertisers is essential for publishers to ensure maximum ROI on their advertising investment. Here are some things to consider.

Ensure You Match Advertiser’s Standards

When advertisers decide on which sites they want to publish their digital advertising campaigns, they will consider several ad quality metrics, including the use of blacklisted keywords, domain authority, viewability score, fill rate, and the historical bid price of a site. If these factors don’t match the advertiser’s guidelines around brand safety, your site may be removed from its campaign.

Avoid Bot Traffic

Non-human, or bot traffic, is widely understood to decrease a site’s brand safety score dramatically. If a demand-side platform flags unusual traffic on your site, this information will be available to other buyers. While it may not always be possible to stop bot traffic, you should aim to understand these metrics, be as transparent as possible about this data, and share the percentage of traffic in your site policy. 

Review Your Ad Network

Whether you partner with an ad network or demand-side platform to perform your media buying and digital marketing, they must provide technology that promotes brand safety and protects consumers. They should have appropriate services in place to protect against ad injection fraud and domain spoofing.

Who Decides What is “Safe” or “Unsafe”?

Who Decides What is “Safe” or “Unsafe”?

Several internationally recognized organizations are currently working together to define brand safety measures, including ​​the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Media Rating Council(MRC). These agencies are working to establish best practice guidelines around brand safety to ensure a healthy advertising supply chain for brands, advertisers, publishers, and consumers alike. 

There are several measures a website owner can take to protect their future reputation and ensuring ongoing performance for their ad inventory.

Brand Safety Measures

When it comes to implementing brand safety measures, advertisers and publishers should be looking to create their own guidelines outside of what is provided by the IAB and MRC. There are several protocols they can consider adopting to assure brands they are working to keep their reputation safe and their ads contextually aligned.

Avoiding Invalid Traffic

Invalid traffic, such as bot traffic, is a known risk when it comes to keeping a brand safe. While some bots, like the ones used by Google to crawl and index a website, are useful, malicious bots serve to imitate human behavior, disrupt traffic analytics, and in some cases, steal information. 

Elude Fake News

Elude Fake News

Context is essential when it comes to ad placement. With both revenue and reputation on the line, marketers should be ever vigilant when it comes to placing their ads next to fake news. If you don’t know where your ads are being placed, you could be doing irreparable damage to your name without even knowing it. Ads that are placed next to fake news can be highly damaging to online campaigns, with social media site Reddit pulling all programmatic advertising from conspiracy threads. Likewise, Google AdSense has updated its policy to avoids websites that “misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information,” as brands want to ensure they are not associated with fake news in any context.

Blacklisting Keywords

Blacklisting Keywords

Blacklisting keywords is a simple process whereby an advertiser’s platform stops a bid for an ad if it contains words that are deemed a risk.

While this is a convenient solution for advertisers, it can lead to a loss of revenue for publishers. 

As it stands, this technique is currently creating some tension in the advertising industry. For blacklisting to be effective long-term, the industry needs to look at more sophisticated techniques and tools.

Choosing Direct Deals over Programmatic

With brand safety issues arising from programmatic deals, advertisers are now choosing direct deals over programmatic as they offer more tools for targeting the consumers they want while also keeping a brand safe. 

Moving to direct deals can sometimes be an advantage to publishers, as direct deals may offer better revenue per impression than programmatic deals.

Brand Safety has become an increasingly important concern for all players involved in the online marketing supply chain. By establishing clear standards and keeping on top of ad quality metrics, publishers can ensure they protect their reputation and that of their clients. 

At Publift, we work with clients to create programmatic advertising solutions that ensure brand safety and maximum ROI. Contact our team today to learn more.

Grow with us

Boost your ad revenue with our all-in-one solution. Grow your business with a sustainable, long term partnership.