Safety First sign representing brand safety

What is brand safety, and why should I care?

In the last few years, and particularly since the Covid-19 pandemic, brand safety has become ever-more important among businesses who advertise their goods and services online. Increasingly, people want to buy from brands that they feel align with their personal values or beliefs – whether that be equality, climate change, fair trade, social issues – the list goes on.

In the face of this, businesses have worked hard over recent years to establish a transparent set of values, around which their marketing and sales efforts are based. These core values are fundamental to a brand’s reputation, and business owners consider the maintaining of these values to be of the utmost importance. Every piece of content, every page, every interaction must reinforce these values, and this is easy enough when you write and post on channels that you own and have control over.

When it gets difficult, however, is when your brand or advertising appears in other digital spaces. That’s where brand safety and suitability comes in.

What is brand safety and suitability?

Brand safety is the practice of controlling where your brand appears, and ensuring that it isn’t associated with any problematic or unsafe environments. The goal is to align with other positive brands that align with your business’ values, and whose audience does too. For years, marketers have used simple tactics to ensure their brand doesn’t align with any platforms or brands that use similar keywords or phrases but have a vastly different ethos to their own.

The extrapolation of this is brand suitability – while brand safety processes use broad tactics to avoid showing up in certain searches or on particular platforms, brand suitability is more nuanced. It takes an in-depth look at the overarching context of pages where your brand appears, including content meaning, terms, phrases and more. Keywords often have more than one meaning, and it takes a considered approach to ensure your brand has as much reach as possible without making the wrong associations. 

Why is brand safety important?

Poor brand alignment could result in you alienating your audience, losing customers and causing irreparable damage to your brand. There are more digital spaces than ever with explicit socio-political messages or values, and smart marketers should use all of the tools at their disposal to ensure their brands only cultivate the right partnerships.

Read to the bottom of the page for some brand safety tips you can try right away:

How does this apply to Twitter?

Despite assurances by Elon Musk that brand safety would not be a casualty of the new era of Twitter, advertisers remain unconvinced. In September, it was reported that several big players had pulled their ads after finding they had appeared next to tweets soliciting abusive images of children (Source – Reuters). This alone was enough to scare away the likes of Dyson, Mazda, Forbes and PBS Kids – a huge blow to Twitter’s bottom line.

Last week, one of the “big four” advertising agencies recommended its clients “pause” their Twitter ad spend in case the site becomes increasingly unpredictable:

Musk has also attempted to satisfy advertisers that no content moderation policies have changed, or will change under his ownership. However, speculation abounds that the new chief has dispensed with most of the team responsible for this – as highlighted by MMA Global President Lou Paskalis in a tweet:  

Lou Paskalis Tweet

To add to this, it has been reported that despite reassurances about content moderation, the use of the “N” word on Twitter surged by around 500% in the first 12 hours after Elon Musk’s takeover:

While it seems too early for Musk to have implemented all of his changes to Twitter’s operating policies, the early reports, speculation and uncertainty have been more than enough to drive advertisers away, citing brand safety and suitability. This goes to show that – to an extent – even the perception of a threat to brand safety is something that marketing departments take very seriously, and no company or platform is immune.

Forget Twitter – how do I ensure MY brand’s safety?

For most large companies, brand safety and suitability is the purview of the marketing department. In-house teams and outsourced agencies alike will look at your brand’s tone, its values and its messaging, and consider how all of that aligns with potential partnerships and ad platforms. 

For SMEs and smaller businesses, however, brand safety isn’t always as widely considered. Platforms where businesses usually advertise, such as Meta, Google, YouTube and more are usually considered safe, however many have had their own problems in the past with positioning paid advertisements next to extremist or inappropriate material.

What’s more, these platforms can push your ads into other curated ad spaces, such as Google Display Network, for example. Here, you can choose demographics that you’d like to display your ads to, but there is generally less control over the context of the websites where you’ll appear. To ensure brand suitability, you should ensure these sites align with your own brand values and exclude any that don’t.

The last few weeks have demonstrated how quickly a platform considered “safe” can turn on its head and plunge its advertisers into turmoil. To avoid being caught out, it is a good idea to stay in-the-know about what content you’re putting out and where. 

Here’s a few brand safety tips you can try:
      • Use exclusions or negative keywords to keep your content away from certain searches
      • Avoid blacklisted publishers or websites
      • Use insights to closely monitor your campaigns.
      • Prioritise transparency
      • Be familiar with a platform’s brand safety tools and recommendations
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