Platforms Own Brand Safety, But Brands Must Own Suitability

Brand safety has been a dominant industry topic for the past year. And all the attention has led to notable improvements in brand safety measures at both Google and Facebook. But it has also had an unfortunate side effect: Many marketers are confused about where the job of the platform stops and where their job begins.

Make no mistake, of course brand safety is the responsibility of platforms like Google and Facebook. But brand suitability, something far more complex, is the responsibility of the brands themselves. The platform-focused narrative driven by salacious news coverage takes our attention away from the fact that brands and their agencies have a responsibility to think about where their ads are running.

Content Exists on a Spectrum

Terrorism. Hate speech. These types of content fall squarely under the brand safety umbrella, and they are the responsibility of the platforms. Over the past year alone, both Google and Facebook have taken great strides forward in the elimination of this sort of content from their platforms, supplementing their algorithmic changes with new hires to manually screen for offending content. This battle will never be over. Bad actors will find new ways to slide horrifying content by, and further refinement will always be needed. 



Some content is clearly premium. And a small amount of content is unmistakably a “no-go.” The rest—the vast majority—exists among the shades of gray. In the past few weeks, I’ve found myself in thoughtful conversations with marketers about subject matter that includes the suitability of political content, religious content, content aimed at children, health content, twerking and other less savory concepts. None of this is universally bad, it’s just not right for every brand advertiser.

The Path to Owning Suitability

After leaving YouTube advertising for more than a year, Procter & Gamble Co. is greenlighting ad buys on the platform again. The world’s largest advertiser reports that it is satisfied with the steps YouTube has taken to protect brand safety on the platform. But there’s more to it than that: P&G has also developed a strong and independent POV about suitability. As reported in the Bloomberg piece cited, P&G will approve content on which its ads run, based on a careful application of their own suitability standards.

And P&G is hardly alone — brands in all categories are embracing ownership of suitability and taking the time to craft their own suitability models. We’ve seen it firsthand.

Ultimately, brand suitability is much more nuanced than brand safety. It’s subjective, and it is incumbent upon every brand to decide on a strategy that its team can stand behind.

Platforms do play a role in suitability as well, in that they must provide the data and transparency needed for brands to tailor their buys according to their own standards. But the platforms cannot define “suitability” for the brand itself. The definition of suitability will change from brand to brand, and even from campaign to campaign.

For all advertisers, now is the time to exercise their roles as brand stewards. Simply put: Brand suitability comes from within, a place that brands can control. Once they do, the conversation will shift to curating the best rather than avoiding the worst.

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