What Is Brand Safety? How Can It Guarantee Your Campaign’s Success?

Industry InsightsWhat Is Brand Safety?
Table of contents

    Brand safety is a set of actions to avoid facing image issues. It implies strict control of associated platforms, which are necessary to make marketing campaigns successful. Dig deeper into what brand suitability is and why it matters in the digital world.

    The definition of brand safety and its importance

    It’s important that your brand does not show up next to harmful content like fake news if you don’t want to lose customers. Brand safety is pretty much similar to brand suitability with several major differences. Brand safety stands for making sure that advertisements won’t be shown somewhere that the marketer wouldn’t feel comfortable with. Some websites and applications can be more harmful than productive.

    Studies prove that a brand’s reputation suffers when its commercials are placed along with content that is a mismatch. For instance, a make-up manufacturer’s ad next to social media posts about animal testing. Thus, it is necessary to know where your ads are placed and where they should not appear. Advertisers can do so by applying various inventory tools ranging from the safest content to the most threatening. 

    How to interpret brand safety?

    To understand brand safety practices better, imagine that you’re a publisher in the financial field. Your hypothetical inventory is suitable for different financial organizations like banks. Still, if content related to banking malpractice shows up, those financial structures will want to prevent their advertisements from being placed near those articles. Ignoring the full site for placing ads may damage an ad’s campaign. Keyword blacklisting might be the way out. This tool assists with filtering out content with “disruptive” news.

    Safe advertising on websites might be expensive for your brand as many other companies wish to see their ads there. The safest platforms have all the necessary tools for their clients who want to place their ads. Consider Google, for example. This industry giant allows for the opting-out of entire content categories (e.g., sensitive topics).

    Brand safety categorizations

    The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has come up with brand safety categories that every marketer should be aware of. On the whole, there are 13 of them to keep in mind. So, here is where you would not want to place advertisements to stay among safe brands:

    • Adult
    • Military conflict
    • Obscenity
    • Drugs
    • Crime
    • Death
    • Arms
    • Tobacco
    • Terrorism
    • Cyberpiracy
    • Hatred or discrimination
    • Fake news
    • Spam websites

    Watch out for those brand safety categories if you do not want your brand’s reputation to suffer!

    IAB is not the only organization responsible for defining brand safety categories. Another authority is the Media Rating Council (MRC). Those are two trading companies that help to support a healthy supply chain. IAB and MRC come up with the frameworks that help to make sure that inventory sticks to privacy guidelines and best ad placement strategies. 

    Publishers and marketers can easily develop their brand safety practices by following the guidelines set out by IAB and MRC. 


    This term associated with brand safety stands for the situation when web pages and advertisements misalign. In other words, when the context between a page and display commercial is mismatched. There is a comedy value in these mismatches, and the long-running British news satire magazine, Private Eye, provides “malgorithms” examples in a regular feature. 

    As an example of this, The British newspaper The Guardian has its own dating platform. They had an ad for it next to a profile of the terrorist behind the attack on the UK parliament back in 2016. So, it is a bit weird to see a cheerful motto like “Enjoy your journey… Take a right turn at Guardian Soulmates” next to the gloomy heading like “Khalid Masood is a violent criminal…” It is better to leave cheerful ad messages for other cases (e.g., next to the humorous headline) to support your brand safety.

    Extremist websites

    To make your brand safe, you’d better avoid certain platforms. Some advertisements may host extremist views, which is not good as well. Content that provokes hatred and anger like fake news will be harmful to your campaign. You should avoid messages related to racism, sexism, political extremism, and things like that. Once again, consider Google as an example. The company has come under a great deal of scrutiny as Google Adsense has been funding extremist websites for a while despite its policies. That is because it only removes advertisements at the page level. Interestingly, British brands had contributed over £250,000 to extremist websites in 2020.

    Specialists may even have no idea about such type of support. For example, an ad may be placed next to the content from a terrorist group or radicals. Then, these parties can obtain part of the ad revenue. AT&T is one of the companies that pulled its ad budget from YouTube when it was found out that extremists were gaining revenues from popular content. In the example above, once the commercials appeared among Google AdSense propaganda content, the company was inadvertently paying extremists. After the scandal, the company realized the significance of brand safety so they used more tools to support it.

    Fake advertisement maker

    Contextual understanding is crucial for brand safe ads. You will know that fake news has been on the minds of marketing specialists the world over unless you have been under a rock. Why does it occur?

    Your advertisement could be funded by faces involved in blatant fraud. It means netting users through social media networks to click through to a website via a teasing heading (a.k.a. clickbait). To prevent your commercials from being placed next to malicious allegations, you should know ahead where your ad will be placed and how. 

    Here is an example, “Sniffing rosemary increases memory by up to 75%.” It really has a positive impact on human memory, but improving it by 75 percent is a big claim. That’s why you should avoid any fake advertisement maker.

    Blind advertisement example

    A blind ad stands for an advertisement that does not disclose the name of the ad-placer. It only offers basic contact info. For instance, those are job vacancies that do not indicate the employer’s name. Another example is a sign with a house image and a phone number asking to call for more details. Such ads might seem suspicious to many consumers, as they may wonder why in the world your brand wants to stay anonymous (e.g., some legal issues).

    Why does brand safety matter at all?

    Sophisticated marketing specialists are paranoid that an advertisement will be put next to hazardous content. Household brands are eager to contribute plenty of money to recruiting specialists to ensure brand safety.

    Developing adverse brand associations

    Brand associations stand for a connection between a brand and a concept. Each time a user thinks of something related to a brand, a brand association is made. A positive brand association can often be a guarantee of customer loyalty and therefore higher profitability.

    The advertisement placement plays an important role in creating a brand association. An association can be somewhat negative when an ad is placed somewhere near harmful content. Negative content may cause corresponding feelings in consumers.

    For instance, vehicle companies would not place their advertisements to show up next to content describing some car accidents. After all, safety is one of the primary features for those who wish to buy cars. 

    Minimizing the perception of brand quality

    If an advertisement appears somewhere near aggressive content or an ad that contradicts the company’s narrative, users might start having doubts about the quality of a product or service. 

    Some research proved that there are two consequences of a situation when potential consumers view ads placed next to harmful, irrelevant, or sensitive content. The first consequence is a seven-time decrease in the perception of quality. The second consequence is a 0.5-times decrease in consumers’ wish to recommend the brand to someone.

    Distinguishing adverse aspects

    Placing ads during news programs increases brand recognition and awareness in general. However, many advertisers offer their commercials on news narratives related to sub-topics associated with the brand’s product or service. 

    While buying a digital ad, a marketing specialist decides on relevant keywords and key phrases to stand out from their competitors and make users find their messages easily. Not all keywords guarantee success. Some should be avoided in some instances. “Fuel economy” or “safety picks” are the two features that potential car buyers are typically searching for on the internet, for example. It makes sense to include them in your list. Still, make an exclusionary list as well so that your brand is never associated with irrelevant, adverse keywords. Do it to position your product or service in a positive light only.

    How to support brand safety

    As a marketer, you should do whatever possible to keep your brand safe. Here are some tips that you may start using today to ensure your brand safety.

    Prioritize transparency

    A perceived lack of transparency might be a real problem when it comes to brand safety. A more transparent ecosystem is what a company needs for increased brand safety. A transparent supply chain flow improves relationships amongst different parties. 

    For a transparent supply chain flow, it’s necessary to understand where your banners are served. Find out where your funds are spent in the advertising technical chain. Otherwise, you won’t be able to control and arrange your funds properly. One of the time-tested ways to fully control media buying strategy is via in-house initiatives. For instance, Facebook offers a regular Community Standards Enforcement Report.

    Avoid blacklisted publishers

    As well as having a blacklist of keywords and key phrases, it’s also a good idea to prevent any contact with blacklisted publishers. Some advertisers may think of them as good partners, but that won’t always be the case. Aggressive marketing is not good in this case, so do not get tricked by the low costs they offer – blacklisted publishers always put your brand image under threat. Sometimes, you may need to blacklist websites manually.

    Avoid invalid traffic

    By any means, avoid invalid traffic for your brand’s safety. In case a demand-side platform detects unusual traffic on your domain, it automatically marks you unsafe. Stay transparent and share the percentage of invalid traffic you possess on your website.

    Monitor campaigns in real-time

    Track where your advertisements are displayed by applying real-time data. Use insights to modify targeting or other settings if you find that there is something wrong with your marketing campaign. 

    Control bot traffic

    You may also apply heatmaps that allow businesses to control possible bot traffic. In addition, you can explore bot clicks in the same spot. By knowing these patterns, it’s possible to enhance the performance of your campaigns significantly.

    Check your demand source

    Carefully select your demand partners to guarantee brand safety. Ensure that your partners possess proper safety mandates with protection against fraud.

    Look at third party data

    Observe organizations that suggest third-party confirmation. Such organizations propose checking platforms before publishing content. In other words, looking at third-party data prevents your ads from being run on websites with harmful or sensitive content.

    Choose a reputable programmatic provider

    This stage is one of the most vital things to keep in mind. It’s vital to pick a programmatic platform that you can trust. Here are the questions that you may ask yourself to find a reliable provider:

    1. How many providers do you need?
    2. How do you plan to target your audience?
    3. Where do you expect your advertisements to show up?
    4. What are some of the useful tools you may need for your business purposes?

    Final thoughts

    Here is what you should keep in mind: make sure that your brand is safe, but brand safety should not be an obstacle to advertising. It’s crucial that you prevent your commercials from being placed on the darker corners of the web next to irrelevant content. Otherwise, you risk your brand image being damaged.

    Still, the main idea of brand safety is to make you keep on advertising conscientiously. So, it’s not about stopping your campaigns but choosing the partners carefully and always checking places where you plan to show your ads.