Have Advertisers Overcorrected When It Comes To Brand Safety?

The 2016 election and the rise of the term “fake news” have left a bad taste in digital marketers’ mouths. Factor in YouTube’s 2017 brand safety crisis, and it’s easy to understand why some brands are choosing to operate conservatively when it comes to online content.

Major brands have made the sweeping decision to cut all placements adjacent to news content, with the vague goal of avoiding association with stories on political scandal and gun violence. At the same time, these brands have set planning and buying parameters so tight that they are hindering performance across the board, hurting others in the brand family without realizing the detriment.

There are two issues for the brand within this conservative modus operandi.

One: Completely avoiding certain kinds of pages may eliminate the potential to reach certain audiences. Brands that make holistic cuts could really hurt themselves in hitting their campaign goals.



Two: Parent brands levying strict guidelines can inadvertently strangle the performance of smaller campaign subsets.

Let’s look at a few examples.

We might see a major department store brand setting parameters to avoid all news and political content. But the data shows that the audience most inclined toward its specific product categories spends as much time digesting political news online as she does perusing offers and online merchandising. Many news portal pages are simply related to lifestyle, real estate, entertainment, and not necessarily crime or politics. A marketer can reasonably plan to run ads on major news outlets while avoiding op-ed columns or forums that may harm the brand by negative association.

On another front, let’s imagine a major home and auto insurance brand that directs its agency to only run initiatives on a whitelist containing only news, sports, and lifestyle sites with strict age targeting. The problem here is that different initiatives might be aimed at different demo and lifestyle groups, so the whitelist and age targeting are not always appropriate universal factors.

A third example might have a health insurance brand targeting only a handful of sports/health/fitness sites, usually with hyper-local geotargeting, which in effect reduces the size of the audience and the number of touchpoints.

Some of the examples above show high focus on context-only inventory, which is extremely limiting considering a number of other targeting options available to reach the desired audiences. Some of these moves are more about brand safety optics– with no real general association with news or politics.

The best advice for concerned brands comes down to a few rules of thumb:

  •       Consider each specific initiative, not just overall brand aspirations, to determine the needs around content
  •       Check yourself on preconceived notions of what content your selected audience consumes, or you risk creating your own undue limitations
  •       Work with trusted partners to determine opportunities around audiences and the appropriate content
  •       Look for more flexible approaches to blocking undesirable content, such as keyword and page level blocking, rather than excluding an entire category or only running on a small subset of sites

Amid turbulent times, a brand may lean into its own perceived high road. Instead, I encourage taking a breath and looking at real data to assess how you are actually doing with your audience. Do so through the cross-check or self filter of some of the examples provided here. I believe you will find that with a little creativity and some sound practical measures, you can still travel the wisest route: reaching, expanding, and deepening your audience, all while continuing to evolve your plan and improve your ROI — and staying safe on the open road.

2 comments about "Have Advertisers Overcorrected When It Comes To Brand Safety?".
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  1. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, April 13, 2018 at 1:41 p.m.

    Or maybe advertisers are deciding to apply the same content/context standards to the digital environment that they do to the traditional environment. Someone has to do it because the publishers and sellers are not. 

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 13, 2018 at 11:25 p.m.

    Maybe some advertisers have higher standards than you.

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