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Navigating the Digital Landscape: Ensuring Brand Safety in Advertising

The world of digital advertising is a virtual ocean of media options. And like the ocean, there’s a lot hiding below the surface.

That’s why our buying team is continually having discussions about things like fraud prevention and brand safety. No one wants their ad to run next to hateful, divisive or disturbing content.

So before you head out on the open sea with your advertising dollars - let’s lay out what brand safety means in the digital world. 

What is brand safety? 

Brand safety is taking steps to ensure your content doesn’t appear next to something that is contextually bad for your business. That can mean a lot of things. Here are a few examples:  

Hateful content: Many places with user-generated content have issues with advertisers appearing next to hate speech. Additionally, there are certain publishers that can be considered problematic based on the content they produce. 

Inappropriate audience: An ad for alcohol running during kids’ programming would be a great example of this. Not only is it a waste of money, it’s problematic that it’s reaching kids at all. 

Contextual misalignment: An example of this would be an advertising campaign for an airline running next to a story or webpage about an airline disaster. 


Disturbing content: Perhaps the most difficult to regulate, disturbing content can be in the eye of the beholder. Some advertisers don’t want to run in violent programming or coverage of disturbing news. 

Polarizing content: If we have learned anything from the Bud Light influencer campaign debacle is that sometimes your content won’t be well received by everyone, and that can have a negative impact on your bottom line. 

Why is brand safety important? 

It may seem obvious but there are a few reasons brand safety is taken seriously by agencies, advertisers and even publishers. 

Protecting reputation: Brand safety is crucial for safeguarding the reputation of your brand. Placing ads next to harmful or offensive content can damage public perception and erode consumer trust.

Consumer trust: Trust is a currency in the digital age. Consumers are more likely to engage with and purchase from brands they perceive as responsible and trustworthy. Unsafe advertising can undermine this trust.

Compliance and regulations: Many countries have stringent regulations surrounding advertising content, and non-compliance can lead to legal issues and financial penalties.

Ad spend efficiency: Advertisers pay for ad placements, and ads that appear in unsafe environments may not yield the desired results. Ensuring brand safety can lead to more efficient use of ad budgets.

What are some brand safety strategies? 

Content verification: Some platforms have content verification tools and services to scan and assess the content on websites and platforms where your ads are displayed. This can keep your ad from running next to content that is inappropriate or misaligned. 

Keyword and contextual targeting: Some platforms allow you to use keyword lists and contextual targeting to control the environments where your ads appear. This is where an airline may opt to avoid any website that uses the words “crash” or “terrorism.” 

Block and allow lists: Maintain block lists of websites and content categories that you want to avoid and allow lists of approved sites. Regularly update these lists to enhance brand safety. Any business that runs regularly on programmatic should have a block and allow list they provide to their digital buying partners. 

Regular monitoring and reporting: You or your buyer should continuously monitor where your ads are being displayed. This means pulling inventory reports and adding problematic or suspicious sites to a block list. 

Influencer partnerships: Vet influencers carefully and ensure that their content aligns with your brand values before entering into partnerships. Have contracts in place that allow for an out if an influencer does anything that could embarrass or tarnish the advertiser’s reputation (we’re looking at you Logan Paul!). Monitor influencer content for brand safety throughout the collaboration. 

Third-party verification: Partner with third-party verification companies to independently assess the suitability and safety of ad placements.

Internal guidelines: Establish clear internal guidelines and policies for brand safety. Train your marketing and advertising teams on these guidelines and make them aware of potential risks. 

Avoid partner networks: Google, Meta and more often default to including what they call “partner networks” in their buys. This allows them to act as a programmatic buyer and increase the reach of your advertising. Sounds like a great idea but typically partner network information is murky and difficult to control. Opt out of partner networks and if you wish to run programmatic media, run it separately where brand safety controls are more prevalent. 

Review your buys: Always ask for robust post-campaign reporting and understand the places your ads wound up. Your digital advertising partner should be able to provide you with the site or app list where your campaign ran. If they won’t provide you with your inventory report, find a different vendor. 

Find a buyer that understands your brand safety concerns: Many advertising partners, particularly larger programmatic companies, may apply filters but don’t get into the weeds on your inventory. If your buyer can’t articulate a brand safety strategy that makes sense, find a new one. 

In the digital age, brand safety in advertising is not merely a luxury but a necessity.

Advertisers and buyers must actively protect their brand's or client’s reputation, consumer trust, and legal compliance. Brand safety strategies can drive up the cost of advertising but in most cases it is worth it to protect your brand from issues. 

If you are ready to sail on the ocean of digital advertising, Left Hand Agency remains committed to brand safety for our clients. Let’s talk!

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