Brand Safety: The Blame Game

Share this post

Who is to blame for brand safety failure? Is it the brand, the agency, the publisher, or is it Mrs. Peacock in the library with the candlestick?

Surely everyone in the Programmatic industry is equally responsible since with the technology that is available today there is no excuse for an ad being served next to unsafe content. We should all work together to uphold the qualities and standards of a proud reputable industry

In today’s programmatic play Google is taking the lead as the primary suspect. Right now Google has, literally, been called in for questioning regarding a crime which we all have hand in. Even if we don’t have blood on our fingers we’re witnesses watching it happen.

The reality is the brands have been allowing their ads to be around unsavory content for some time now, the only difference now is that it is just reaching the public’s attention.

Are we proud that 2017, will be remembered as the year where brand safety questions were not only being asked in corporate board rooms but also within the British Parliament when Google was called to the house to account for their actions.

So what to do? How should we solve this puzzle?

First. Let’s be clear about what we mean by brand safety. It’s a commonly used phrase, but just as “programmatic” the term is has been given a wide array of definitions. The term “brand safety” represents an environment that is fundamentally friendly, will not cause perceptions of uncomfortable association or, spur unwelcome sharing or commenting. The costs of an error in this arena can mount quickly and can be permanently detrimental to a brand.

Let’s be transparent, there is no such thing as 100% safe advertising, just as there is no such thing as 100% safe travel. If it’s about choosing the safest route the data tells us the safest mode of transportation is by plane, is that 100% no. But airlines take safety as its primary concern and that’s what we should be doing as an industry with brand safety. It is about choosing the right route for you and managing the amount of risk.


Brands should be more involved and ask questions of agencies on the measures being taken to ensure ads are placed in brand safe environment. Different environments suit different brands and brands should clear communicate what “safe” means for them. Brands should also note that context is everything. Context can determine where “ball” is risqué – as a sports object, no; however, the word in its plural version of the noun is a different story.  A more precise meaning can be determined by examining both the word and its relationship with other words on the page. So Balls may indicate unsafe content but if you’re next to the words teams, players and trophies, you should be okay.


WPP Chair, Sir Martin Sorrell, “It’s the seller’s responsibility, not the buyer’s, to make sure contents safe.” We believe that this is over simplistic, it’s shared responsibility.  Agencies should take it upon themselves as strategic media partners to talk to clients to help them understand what the appropriate context for their brand and campaign is. Then ensure that Publishers are providing an appropriate contextual environment for their client’s brands. Speaking of which –


No publishing executive wants to get that call – followed quickly with an email and screenshots asking why a cherished advertising partner’s well=crafted message appeared next to negative, inappropriate or perhaps damaging content on a publisher’s page.  Publishers should deploy the same care and consideration in the online world as they do in their traditional ink on paper products. When there is crisis, natural disaster or terrorist atrocity, pages are routinely cleared of ads. Responsible publishers take similar care in the digital world.

So let’s not play the blame game. Let’s work together to ensure that our leading Programmatic protagonist lasts beyond the first act and we all have the happy ending that we deserve.

Share this post
No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.