Brand safety doesn’t mean restricting your reach – it increases the return on your spend

'Brand safety' is one of those unrelenting industry phrases that seems to be spouted ad nauseam, with brands and agencies alike contributing their two cents in every possible publication. The irony of that statement is not lost on me doing it again!

We all claim to care about brand safety, but many brands have yet to address their own accountability. We jump blindly into programmatic black holes and user generated content minefields, running across lengthy site lists with little concern as to where messaging may appear. In reality, the fact is that is we don't need to compromise on buying programmatically, or taking advantage of other leaps forward in marketing technology, but we should get a little smarter about where we send our digital spend.

We need to step back and take a look at these massive mobile networks we regularly buy across; a daunting lack of transparency leads to brands relinquishing control of their environment, for the sake of blind scatter gun reach. Reducing audiences down to broad segments and then hitting them anywhere and everywhere they may roam across the net, might ensure that you reach an audience predisposed to your messaging, but it makes it increasingly tricky to monitor the content your brand sits next to.

Partnering with a few premium partners will never provide the massive blanket reach that a network can promise you. Partnering with a few premium partners can, however, provide reassurance and transparency. It also means you don’t have to trawl through hundreds of potential platforms to make sure your ad is sitting in a brand safe environment.

Crucially, streamlined media owners, without several thousands of properties, will be able to provide solid brand safety guidelines. A breakdown of how quickly an ad can be taken down if an issue is found, how they ensure that an issue won't happen in the first place, general queries that you would think would be a standard provision. By working with a limited number of publishers, it's far easier to grant assurances than it is if you have to manage reams of random sites.

Increasingly, utility-based apps are developing more intuitive branded solutions. Apps like Citymapper might not have endless millions of monthly active users, but their ad formats sit within their user journey. Not too much can go awry if your ad is only being seen alongside a route suggestion. Similarly, our partners at Under Armour Connected Fitness offer a platform solely dedicated to helping their users with their health and fitness goals.

Integrated messaging on a platform like this can never be compromised by questionable content, or negative affiliations. With utility apps, you get exactly what you’re expecting, and you associate your brand with a service that improves the life of its users. Solutions on these can still be bought programmatically and can keep up with the tech that makes buying easier and easier, without compromising your brand's safety.

In general, by integrating your messaging with app content, you lower the potential risk. With 88% of our mobile time based in-app, they play a significant role in our day-to-day lives, and therefore media consumption. Services like Deezer and Spotify accompany us through every part of our routines, and their ads integrate themselves into those routines concurrently. Native formats like in-feed videos or pre-rolls don't detract from usability and thus work their way into these routines seamlessly. That isn't to say, however, native formats can't be subject to integration into some questionable content.

Algorithmic content targeting might streamline processes, but sometimes human intuition can't be understated. Recently, we spotted an article in the Evening Standard about a local carjacking, delivering a pre-roll for Sky Sports F1 before the CCTV footage of a car being trapped and jacked by people with axes. Not the ideal brand experience.

Messaging may well have hit a user of the roughly correct age, gender, and location, but they then managed to drive negative brand association amongst their key target audience. Brand safety alongside news content is no fresh topic, but the 'watch an ISIS beheading and buy a BMW' rhetoric is growing stale, as brands continue to pour spend into these channels.

If we don't learn and improve we have no grounds to complain. Using keyword targeting to pigeonhole interests, like serving F1 ads around 'car articles' - jacked or otherwise - without comprehensive content assessment and approval will inevitably lead to awkward placements like these.

We all care about where our ad is seen, and who is seeing it. That's why media planning and buying exists. The only way we can make measurable progress is to focus our energy on creative routes to tech-forward, targeted display, that doesn't compromise the brands we represent.  We need to take the same care online as with would with print, broadcast or brand partnerships.

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