Brand Safety – Buzzword or Threat?

What does Brand Safety mean and why should you look at it?

Brand Safety – Just a buzzword or a big danger for brands and companies. We clarify and explain why not only CEOs and CMOs should know about it.

In marketing circles, “brand safety” is on everyone’s lips. But what exactly is brand safety? How relevant is the topic? For whom? Chief marketing officers, CFOs or CEOs? And how dangerous is it really?

Definition of Brand Safety

According to the official definition, brand safety is the playing out of advertising campaigns on brand-compliant environments on the Internet. In traditional, analog media, it has always been a matter of course to ensure that one’s own brand’s advertising takes place in an environment that is conducive to the brand and its values. No one will disagree with that. Many brands therefore avoid sex and violence environments in print media and TV.

This applies to online media as a matter of course. But here, compliance with the same rules is much more difficult. When advertising is played out digitally according to target groups – and this is increasingly automated – great care must be taken to ensure that certain environments, i.e. websites, remain excluded. For this reason, so-called “blacklists” are kept, which meticulously list the websites to which advertising must not be delivered. These websites include thousands with misogynistic, violence-glorifying and Islamist content, or typical sites that spread hate speech and fake news. The best known in this country among the American websites are probably news sites such as Breitbart or Epochtimes.

Nevertheless, ads from Bavarian ministries have appeared on Islamist sites and, most recently, advertising materials from VW, Postbank, Fiat, Hannovermesse, Fraport and even the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy have appeared on questionable websites. They all allegedly maintain blacklists to prevent just that. They and their agencies either lack the necessary technology, have flawed processes, or simply have not put in enough effort. The Hate and Fake News websites that attract the advertising money work with all sorts of technological tricks, such as copying foreign URLs that trick the agencies’ delivery technology. They think they are delivering the client’s ads to Washington Post or testberichte.de, but the ads appear on Washington Times, Epochtimes, or Breitbart.

What damage can occur?

But how great is the damage really when misdeliveries of this kind occur? Display advertising has a sales volume of 4.5 billion euros in Germany. Two-thirds of this is delivered automatically (“programmatically”): 3 billion. According to consistent analyses of various studies, about five percent of this is affected by “brand safety issues,” which adds up to 150 million euros. That’s a lot of money that German advertisers are giving away for effect – and thus a topic for the CFO. Worldwide, the volume of advertising that falls into the wrong hands in this way is more than six billion dollars. And that is really strong stuff.

But even worse is the fact that these funds are used to finance conspiracy theories, hatred, and the spread of hate and fake news. This in no way fits in with the values of the companies concerned and their expensively positioned brands, which have prescribed an attitude and “purpose” for their communications as well. It destroys the previously built image of the brand.

Example VW

VW can tell you a thing or two about the aforementioned problems. Unfortunately – and without any intention – VW has already made the headlines several times in connection with racist advertising, but also with misguided advertising on Breitbart. Such incidents inevitably end up on the desks of corporate CEOs as well. After all, three quarters of German consumers now attach importance to the brand they trust showing attitude and making sense when making a purchasing decision.

More than just wasted money – danger for brands

Brand safety issues that go unnoticed or unresolved are therefore much more than just wasted marketing money. It is money that has the power to attack the value of the brand and destroy previously built brand equity.

This fact has by no means reached all companies. Of companies that are approached about documented deliveries of their advertising to highly problematic websites, two-thirds do not initially react at all. Some marketing managers only intervene when their CFOs or CEOs are called in.

Awareness of brand safety obviously needs to be raised significantly – especially in marketing – if the problem is to be eliminated in the long term. It is in your interest – and in your hands.

Thomas Koch ist Mediaberater, 69 Jahre alt und seit 49 Jahren im Media-Business. Zuletzt gründete er The DOOH Consultancy als erste Agentur für DOOH. Capital bezeichnete Koch 1995 als „Profiliertesten Vordenker der deutschen Werbung“. 2004 nahm ihn Media & Marketing Europe in die Galerie der 15 Personen auf, die die europäische Werbebranche am meisten bewegten. 2008 wurde er zur Mediapersönlichkeit des Jahres gewählt. 2011 erhielt Koch den SignsAward als „Zeichensetzer“.

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