The Newest Threat to Brand Safety

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In today’s digital environment of fake news and advertising potentially appearing alongside offensive content, brand safety is increasingly a major concern for digital advertisers. Innovations from programmatic advertising and social media platforms have added scale and efficiency to digital marketing, but on the other hand, have also made it increasingly difficult to control where your brand appears and what it appears next to. These concerns are magnified in social environments where consumers are often uploading their own content.

The new threat

Social media platforms attract much of their audience through content generated for and by their users. Advertising on social platforms doesn’t sit on an article page surrounded by content that has been honed and curated by editors. Instead, it sits within a public arena, amid the content, conversations, and opinions shared by users. User generated content can be something as benign as adorable cat pics or as controversial as a divisive political debate.

Social platforms that thrive on a wide range of user generated and professional content are especially susceptible to this new type of brand safety risk. For example, video uploads generate a flood of content, making it difficult for brands to control where their content appears. Advertising for a wholesome household brand could easily appear on a viral video of a cherished family moment, or on a violent video featuring Superman and Peppa Pig locked in a violent gun battle. Thousands of bizarre videos like this were recently created by a group of YouTube growth hackers looking to monetize views from younger audiences. For a time it was successful, with videos from just one such channel receiving tens of thousands in annual revenue from unsuspecting advertisers.

Why is brand risk prevalent on social?

In the past, advertisers were keen to avoid the unpredictable environment created by user-generated content. However, today we see they have been increasingly drawn in to the unique advertising opportunities that social platforms provide. Social now comprises huge chunks of advertisers’ digital budgets.

This growth can be seen as a by-product of the increased professionalism of digital content. Social platforms are now home to content produced by the big broadcasters and major media companies along with enterprising independent creators whose work has far more professionalism than the grainy webcam videos of a decade ago. Even though content on social media platforms continues to grow in professionalism, especially with the career content creators, even this content has its potential risks. A video about recreational drug use, for example, is dangerous for most major brands regardless of whether it’s on a social platform or the open web.

The social platforms can also be seen as a contributory factor to brand safety challenges. The lack of transparency into the technology and build of walled gardens makes it difficult for advertisers to understand, let alone control, what type of content appears alongside their ad placements. Due to an environment with limited information, advertisers are being forced to make a choice between reaching a wider audience and the potential danger of placing their brand messaging next to content that could cause significant reputational damage.

How can advertisers avoid risk?

The challenges associated with advertising in social media environments —due to the lack of transparency offered by social platforms — has been called out by P&G’s  Global Brand Officer, Marc Pritchard. When industry leaders identify and call out a major challenge, it’s clear that the industry as a whole needs to respond. But what should the collective response look like?

There are currently initiatives underway that will give advertisers a window into the walled gardens and provide greater clarity into user generated content. One such initiative will provide scalable third-party brand safety reporting from within the YouTube platform. This initiative, currently in beta, was announced by Google via its Inside Adwords blog. When it fully launches, this offering will give advertisers the ability to better understand the content that their campaigns run against and to make informed choices about their YouTube spend.

The future

Greater transparency is only the starting point for social platforms. New initiatives launching in 2018 will introduce further safeguards within the major social platforms. Future enhancements may include the ability to block advertising in real time from showing up next to content deemed inappropriate by a brand.

Trust in social media has sustained a few critical hits over the last year. A call within the advertising industry for greater transparency was matched by wider public outcry over fake news. To regain trust, social platforms can turn to third-party verification partners who offer an objective view of the media quality performance within their closed environments. Advertisers, in turn, can work with these third-parties to ensure their investment in social platforms is reaching consumers and driving them to take the desired action.

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