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Three Things Every Marketer Should Know About Brand Safety

July 10, 2021

Greg Garunov
EVP, Business Development

Brand safety is a big focus for marketing executives and players across the advertising industry. Organizations like GARM, IAB, MRC and the 4As have or are developing standards. The Brand Safety Institute has begun certifying “brand safety officers” for participating companies. But it wasn’t always this way….

What is brand safety and when did it start?

While different definitions have circulated in recent years, brand safety in its simplest form is a contextual adjacency consideration. Brand managers ask themselves, “Where are our ads appearing and is it appropriate for them to appear there?” Simple questions but not so simple answers today. To understand why, let’s go back to a time when the primary media vehicle was a black and white cabinet television, say, 70 years ago.

Family Watching Television circa 1958

Back then, there were just a handful of broadcast networks to choose from—and a limited number of programs on each network. For an advertiser, it was a pretty straightforward process of understanding where your ads were going to show up. Managing message placement wasn’t really a concept at the forefront of anyone’s mind because it was relatively easy to do.

Plus, content standards were more structured (and stringent) compared to today. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulators, network censors and affiliates, as well as the individual show producers all had interests in ensuring that programming content appealed to the broadest audiences possible—and offended the fewest viewers.

Ads were also carefully scrutinized, not just for the truthfulness of their messages but also for what brands stood for compared to “accepted values.” 

This was what brand safety and brand suitability was in its infancy. Monitoring the programming was very manageable because there were a limited number of networks and time slots. Scrutinizing ads was manageable for the same reason—there were just fewer of them.

What brand safety challenges does today’s media environment pose for marketers?

As you can tell from that 70 year-old snapshot, a lot of things are different today. Over time, more and more media placement opportunities became available with the expansion and fragmentation of channels through technological developments like cable television and eventually, the Internet.

In just the past 15 to 20  years, the explosion of social media and user-generated content platforms, specifically, have exponentially increased the volume of content and thereby, the marketing and advertising opportunities. 

Monetizing all this content has become the focus for the platforms and the individual content creators have essentially become their own showrunners and their own programmers. And since there are millions of individuals creating and distributing new content every day, the sheer volume and variability of the contexts where marketers can place their messages has at times gotten completely out of control.

UGC video creator in back of car

Over the same period, standards around language, sexual suggestion and violence—just to name a few—have gradually degraded in our society and definitely in our media. 

Aggravating circumstances even further, the global pandemic accelerated digital content consumption and helped fuel the always-breaking news cycle and constant waves of social reactions, shares, comments, shares, re-reactions, etc.

Taken together, these factors have created a perfect storm for brand safety. The media ecosystem that marketers have to navigate has transformed from a very static and manageable one 70 years ago to an exceedingly dynamic and volatile one, which, for many, is nearly unmanageable.

What can you do to handle the increased complexity and accelerated pace of social media, news, trends, etc.?

Especially during this past year, we have realized that there is a critical piece missing in the current efforts to navigate brand safety and suitability, and that is a brand’s mindset.

group of young people watching videos on theor phones

It’s become more critical than ever for a brand to respond with speed and relevance to these media, social moments and viral trends. But the challenge is that the mechanisms in the marketplace today don’t support the ability to move as quickly as a lot of brands want, and frankly, need. 

First, each brand needs to define its unique mindset—a comprehensive, granular profile that details their views and opinions and takes into account their values and purpose and how it wants to respond to the blizzard of stories and viral moments.

The other missing element is the notion of opportunity. Brand safety and suitability mechanisms are focused on mitigating risk. That’s important, for sure, but it’s not the same thing as identifying and seizing the myriad opportunities for your brand in all this chaos.

One example of an opportunity could be when a competitor’s CEO makes some controversial public comments. How quickly could you activate on that content with your message today? And how long is the impact of that particular story going to remain an opportunity for your brand? 

Or, if your brand is aligned with a particular influencer that’s made some headlines, what’s the best course of action to capitalize on (or avoid) that narrative that’s in consumers’ minds or maybe take preemptive action against competitor brands?

There are big opportunities like these, as well as thousands of smaller ones, arising and subsiding all the time. And there haven’t been any solutions to accommodate what marketers are looking to do and capitalize on them—until now. We call our solution the Brand Mentality™ platform.

CEO of Delta article

One of the more unique features about it is that we’re constantly ingesting emerging viral trends and breaking news stories to achieve this moment-by-moment response-ability that includes the opportunities brand safety and suitability solutions have missed. 

Another unique feature is the Brand Mentality profile, which allows your brand to codify its mindset, filter threats and opportunities from our massive data stream and activate them in market.

Listen to the eMarketer podcast about Brand Mentality™ and real-time marketing

Reach out to us below to learn more or take the opportunity to listen to this in depth discussion of the platform on eMarketer’s popular Behind the Numbers podcast.

Listen to the full discussion on eMarketer’s podcast

Brand mentality and the future-forward marketing revolution