In the context of digital marketing, brand safety by definition refers to the effort to safeguard advertising brands by avoiding association with harmful or questionable content online. In other words, brands advertising online aim to ensure their paid ads are not placed within or next to inappropriate content, as doing so could result in damaging the brand’s reputation in the eyes of consumer. While some forms of content can be considered universally objectionable, other brand safety concerns can be specific to an individual business.
Marketers have been met with challenges beyond impressions and conversion rates. Trust and transparency root brands in consumerism, so it makes sense that brands would prioritize protecting their brand. With the global digital ad spending forecasted to increase 17% to more than $327 billion in 2019, brand safety issues will surely remain top-of-mind for many marketers. In fact, a reported 84.4% of marketers consider brand safety to be a concern on some level, with nearly 40% saying it’s always a concern.
Looking at the broader marketing landscape reveals that more than two-thirds of brands have been exposed to a brand safety issue. For those fortunate enough to have avoided brand safety issues, the focus has shifted to prevention.
Brand safety concerns aren’t a new phenomenon. However, digital and social media have brought the issue to the forefront as branded content continually finds itself unintentionally placed alongside damaging content on a variety of sites and platforms.
While some brands have been called out for wittingly advertising with controversial personalities or media channels, others have been blindsided by the placement of their ads within or next to objectionable content. In response, several industry reports and calls for action have flooded the space.
Facing the possibility of landing next to graphic subjects or on offensive channels, brands are calling for social media platforms to create safer advertising environments, while others are threatening to pull ad dollars.
An anonymous source at Digiday’s Media Buying Summit offered the following: “The only thing that makes clients walk away is contextual brand safety. In 2017, many of our clients walked away [from YouTube] because they were worried that one ad would get them on the homepage of The Wall Street Journal.” Sentiments such as these point to brand safety becoming an even larger issue within the digital marketing space moving forward.
Google & YouTube Brand Safety Efforts
Google has been in a race to establish more brand safety on the streaming giant, YouTube. Adding to their list of controls, the video-centric social platform made third-party verification available with DoubleVerify late last year.
In addition to platform-based tools and moderation, we have compiled tips to avoid brand safety issues on YouTube as offered by various industry insiders.
Facebook & Instagram Brand Safety Tools
In its brand safety push, Facebook has been busy developing tools to give advertisers more control over where their media appears. Recently, the world’s largest social network also announced partnerships with third-party brand safety providers, OpenSlate and DoubleVerify, through their Facebook Marketing Partners program.
Instagram also offers tools that allow advertisers to opt out of certain kinds of placements, but the platform’s advertisers are now asking for more moderation and oversight. Regarding instances of graphic content on Instagram, Facebook executive Steve Hatch said, “If it’s there to sensationalize and glamourize, of course it has no place on our platform, it shouldn’t be on our platform. And if we need to work harder to make sure it isn’t on our platform then we certainly will.”
The influencer marketing industry is not without brand safety concerns. While the strategy has maximized brand reach to a wide range of targeted audiences, some influencers have also created their share of controversies and scandals along the way. From influencer lawsuits, to sensitive and inappropriate content, to a variety of other failings, influencer marketing is not immune to causing reputational damage.
That said, platforms have responded to such events to combat the promotion and monetization of harmful influencer content. For instance, in the wake of Logan Paul’s “suicide forest” controversy, YouTube began demonetizing certain content on its platform. However, the directive drew complaints from many creators who claimed the policy lacked nuance and negatively affected YouTubers’ incomes. In response to the backlash, the platform later introduced a new set of creator monetization opportunities.
While influencer marketing does have occasional run-ins with brand safety hazards, the industry is not fraught with them—that is, so long as marketers follow steps to ensure brand safety. On the whole, working with influencers actually gives marketers and brands more control over the placement of their sponsored content. Since brands have the ability to vet and hand-select influencers, they leave less up to algorithmic and programmatic chance.
While consumers trust influencers more than traditional advertising, marketers have a responsibility to maintain trust between customers, influencer partners, and their brand. To help avoid brand safety issues in the realm of influencer marketing, marketers should employ the following industry best practices:
Nobody understands the unique needs and nuances of a brand like those on the inside. Rather than defaulting to automated systems that attach influencers to an ad or campaign, brands are wise to handpick their influencers or work with agency experts who can identify the right influencers.
Brands can begin searching for potential partners on influencer marketing whitelists. Offering details about an influencer’s reputation and content, brands can find the insights they need to make more informed decisions around collaborations.
While offering creative freedom to influencers has been a hallmark of the industry, businesses should still involve themselves in the content development process. Brand safety protocols, such as content review and approvals, will help ensure that no piece of content gets published unseen. Moreover, outlining a distribution plan for the content can help to avoid undesirable placement or incorrect timing of an ad or campaign.
A detailed influencer marketing contract should be created to ensure all negotiated elements of a campaign are outlined. Contracts should set expectations, define content ownership, list deliverables, and ultimately protect both parties. They also allow brands to terminate a partnership should an influencer no longer be a match for the brand.
Failure to properly disclose influencer sponsored content will land your brand in hot water with the FTC. Be sure to communicate with influencers and require them to comply with FTC guidelines across all social media marketing channels.
While it sounds cliche, brands need to prepare for the unknown. Influencer marketing comes with several benefits, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all formula with prescription outcomes. Some of the world’s largest brands have been negatively affected by unfortunate events and partnerships, so cover all the bases to lower your brand’s chance of falling victim to influencer controversy.
Brands looking to help mitigate brand safety risks can look to partner with a reputable influencer marketing agency. From providing access to whitelists, to designing, managing, and launching campaigns, to acting quickly if problems arise, a qualified agency can be a great ally in the quest to protect your brand.