Take control

In the light of Cisco pulling its ads from YouTube, Jessica Reid, product marketing manager at Grapeshot, argues that brands must take brand safety into their own hands, and start by acknowledging that what’s right for one brand may not be right for another.

Last month, YouTube was once again in the spotlight as it revealed that it had served ads for major advertisers alongside Nazi, paedophilia and propaganda videos – leading the likes of Netflix and Adidas to suspend their spending on the channel for the immediate future. Then only last week Cisco announced it is removing its ads from YouTube amid brand safety concerns.

This is the latest in a number of high-profile news stories over the past year that has brought home just how difficult – and indeed, important – it is to guarantee your brand’s safety online.

In an attempt to mitigate brand risk and ensure safety in a programmatic environment, in 2018, many brands have begun implementing blacklists and whitelists. But this solution comes with its own drawbacks – the primary one being that it massively reduces the scale at which brands can reach consumers online.

The truth is, the safeguarding process is no longer a commodity tick box exercise for avoiding unsavoury material. Rather, the internet is so rife with content that specific brands require special brand care. So it first comes down to how content relates to each individual brand, and then understanding the desired context of the page in real-time. With this combination, a brand can assure safety, without sacrificing scale.

With that in mind, here’s how marketers can reap the benefits from programmatic, without constantly worrying about brand safety risks.

Customise your strategy
What is considered safe for one brand will not be for another. Very staid and traditional brands might adopt a no-risk approach, while quirkier, edgier brands may be more willing to push boundaries further.

Specific brands require special brand care. For example, Volkswagen would want to avoid content relating to diesel emissions, whilst Natwest avoids fraud and banking scandals. Similarly, Robinsons Squash may be best sat next to innocuous content, whilst an energy drink like Monster might be appropriate for more edgier outlets. So, it’s important to understand that a brand safety solution is not one size fits all.

To achieve optimal results and overall campaign success, advertisers require a flexible custom safety solution that addresses their unique needs and pain points to produce the desired results. Brands therefore need to take some responsibility for deciding where they want to appear online, including the types of topics and conversations they want to be seen among. Once these parameters have been decided, brands should develop bespoke guidelines to that effect and clearly communicate these to their employees and partners.

But it shouldn’t end there. Because the internet is an uncontrollable and unpredictable place, and fresh news stories are continually breaking, so brands need to match this momentum with an always-on approach. That means constantly monitoring and responding to web content as it evolves, and implementing a parallel brand safety strategy that adjusts for this.

Reputational damage
Consumers are more likely than ever to boycott brands who’ve made poor choices online. And with the rise in social media, this feedback is often made public – which can cause irreversible reputational damage for brands. In fact, a recent CMO Council report found that almost half of consumers would abandon brands if their ads appeared next to offensive digital content or fake news.

To tackle this, brands need to start putting their customers first, by delivering relevant, contextual experiences to each individual. This requires getting to know them on a level that transcends age, sex and gender – it means getting to know the nuances of their needs, likes and, perhaps most importantly, dislikes.

Brands can then use this information to understand what their customers’ threshold for risk really is, and use this to better understand the environments in which their content should be appearing. It’s really that simple – give customers what they want, and they’re more likely to react positively to the content they’re receiving, and correspondingly, the brand itself.

Programmatic challenges
2018 brings its own set of programmatic challenges that brands must overcome. Between avoiding harmful content, maintaining reach, delivering the right message and providing relevant content at the right moment, brand safety encapsulates a broad spectrum of issues.

By customising their brand safety strategies. By working more openly and collaboratively with their service partners. By recognising consumers as individuals and investing in the kind of technology that can give them contextually relevant experiences. These are the ways brands will be on their way to protect themselves online and ensure they are executing their campaigns with confidence.