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BizTrends 2018

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Brand safety: In an era where computers are doing all the talking, what is your brand saying?

A ‘Dead like me' DVD-series advertisement in the obituaries section.
A car advertisement next to a story of a horrific road accident.
A fast-food special placed alongside a health article about obesity.
When it comes to purchasing media space on the myriad of websites available online, there can be occasions where ads will appear on sites that may not be a perfect fit for the advertiser. The recent flood of media coverage around brand safety concerns, with regards to large media platforms such as Google’s YouTube and Facebook, has left many advertisers and agencies wondering how to effectively reach their audiences in an online environment without risking the value and reputation of their brands.

Brand safety is an important concept found in digital advertising that refers to the practices and tools that marketers use to ensure an advertisement does not show up in a context that can be damaging to the brand being advertised. There are two types of content that are objectionable: content that would be negative for all brands, i.e. hate sites, firearms etc., and content that is based on criteria specific to the brand.

Not the perfect fit

There are two components that need to be understood when examining this very pertinent issue: user-generated content and automated media buying.
  • User-generated content
    While brand safety concerns on these major online media platforms have only recently come to light, the risk for advertisers was always there. 400 hours of YouTube video content is uploaded globally every minute; 3.8 billion video views is generated on Facebook globally each day. It’s no wonder that online video is being hailed as the future of digital marketing. However, these platforms are only able to boast these kinds of statistics when it comes to online video because all the video content that is being consumed is generated by users.

    Between all this valuable, personal, and useful content on platforms like Facebook and YouTube, the opposite also exists. There has always been content that is questionable, i.e. that contains extremists’ viewpoints or at worst, depictions of hatred and violence. A relevant example of this in a South African context would be recent incidents at a famous local restaurant chain.

    It must be understood that the only reason these major media players are able to provide us with valuable marketing audiences, is because of the user-generated content that exists on their platforms, and in some cases, this user-generated content does not conform to brand values. It is when this user-generated content directly contradicts brand values, that brand safety is compromised.

  • Automated media buying
    The prolific rise of the platforms in question today is largely due to their ability to monetise the above-mentioned content through advertising. This has also been made possible on a global scale through the proliferation of automated media buying. Pay-per-click advertising, real-time bidding or biddable media allows advertisers to reach valuable audiences at scale without having to negotiate and manually purchase each advertising ‘spot’ that is bought.
While this provides obvious advantages with regards to operational efficiencies and agility in an environment that is constantly changing, the real disadvantage that is not spoken about too often is that through focussing on speed, quality can suffer.

How wrong can it go?

Often brands can take advantage of the agility that automated media buying provides in the online space to great effect. There have been numerous examples of brands jumping onto a social media trend such as the “mannequin challenge” or placing advertising messaging with a tongue-in-cheek take on current events. By joining in on the conversation and providing commentary in line with their own values and personalities, brands are able to increase their relevance and, potentially, even consumers’ love for the brand.

On the other hand, when the proper filters and frameworks are not in place, automated ad placement can go horribly wrong. While it is not an easy task to quantify the damage that can be caused by the inappropriate juxtaposition of a brand’s message with questionable content, the fierce vocal backlash from some of the largest global advertisers following the most recent brand safety scare is a testament to the seriousness of this issue.

Maintaining brand safety with automated buying

Since the media activity surrounding brand safety concerns on YouTube, Google has expanded the available filters and exclusions that can be implemented on YouTube advertising campaigns to mitigate any potential brand safety risks. Even with these exclusions in place, advertisers need to be aware that in an environment where the content is mostly user-generated, there is no 100% avoidance of risk.

Brands, therefore, need to work with their agencies to decide how much risk they are willing to take, and what that means for their advertising spend. This will, of course, differ from one brand to the next, but the most important thing is to decide on the level of risk a brand is willing to take on and ensure that the necessary checks are in place in order to work within that threshold. Maintaining brand values can be crucial for today’s consumer.

When it comes to brand safety, preventative measures win over remedial measures. Ignoring brand safety can cause irreparable damage and negative connotations that can take years to overcome. Take note of brand safety and understand why it is an important concept in the digital age.

For more information contact:

Imraan Rajab on or +27 11 582 6692.
For additional information about the company, visit

About the author

Imraan Rajab is Technology & Commercial Operations Director at MediaCom South Africa.

MediaCom's press office