May 16, 2018

Five Key Steps to Keep Your Brand Safe in a Complex Media Ecosystem

Felix Hansen
Senior Director, Product Management

Brand safety is a hot topic in digital advertising – and for good reason. Budgets, reputations, and relationships – both with media partners and customers – are on the line when an ad is delivered in a questionable environment. But brand safety isn’t that simple: Yes, one poor placement can cause a PR crisis and greatly damage brand equity, but too many advertising safeguards can stunt a campaign’s potential and inflate costs.

So how can marketers effectively protect their brands while still delivering high impact campaigns?

As a leading, independent provider of advertising solutions, comScore frequently finds itself discussing this question with clients. We understand that in a complex media environment, brand safety can be hard to navigate and can mean something entirely different from one brand to the next.

With that in mind, here are our five key steps to achieve effective and efficient brand safety:

  1. Define what's unsafe. Defining what type of content is and isn’t brand-safe is the foundational piece of a strong program. It seems intuitive, but each brand – and even each campaign – is different. For example, an article on micro-brewing trends is perfect for a beer ad, but is likely inappropriate for pregnancy product ads. Similarly, articles covering burglaries are very opportune for IoT Security System ads, but not for extended vacation packages. By critically thinking about what is harmful to the featured brand, marketers can better establish rules in the beginning to apply throughout the life of their campaigns.
  2. Strike a balance between precision and scale. When determining the most effective level of brand safety, it’s important for marketers to strike a balance between the accuracy of analysis and the impact on reach. If marketers are overcautious in their approach, the reach will suffer and costs can skyrocket. Conversely, focusing too much on campaign scale – irrespective of brand safety – can lead to insufficient protection and potential public relations nightmares. Balance is key, and the smartest marketers know that effective brand safety programs require finesse and informed judgement.
  3. Leverage the right technology. Brand safety solutions are often seen as commodities, but this assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. If the right technology isn’t being used to evaluate risk, then gaps in accuracy and coverage will inevitably arise. To gain a true understanding of a page’s safety, an accurate assessment of its content – enabled by massive crawling technology capable of assessing billions of URLs every day – is essential. Once the core content of a page has been determined, pattern profiling – across hundreds of thousands of topics and numerous languages – is needed to determine what the page is actually talking about.
  4. Choose where to apply protection. Deciding where to apply brand safety criteria is key but can vary based on how media is bought. If programmatic platforms are used, then robust pre-bid filters coupled with custom keyword block lists should be applied to ensure that biddable inventory is limited to safe content. If buys are executed directly – or advertisers prefer to apply protection as part of campaign measurement – then category, site and keyword block lists can be instrumented using holistic campaign validation tools. Marketers should select vendors that provide a consistent methodology between pre-bid targeting and in-flight measurement to be fully flexible on applying protection to their campaigns.
  5. Go beyond brand safety. While brand safety is a big piece of the marketing puzzle, it’s important to remember that it isn’t the only component. Issues related to viewability and invalid traffic can hinder performance, and – more broadly – diminish trust and transparency across the industry. Beyond ad verification, marketers also need to determine if their ads are actually reaching the intended audience. After all, the time-tested goal of advertising is to elicit a consumers’ feeling, emotion or behavior related to a brand, service or product. Reaching the right audience in viewable, brand-safe contexts is key to achieving that goal – and should thus remain the primary focus for marketers.

To learn more about comScore’s marketing solutions and to see how you can improve your approach to brand safety, please contact us here.