Why brand safety is everything

The internet has undeniably built new ways for brands to communicate to audiences. With up to 1.2 zettabytes per year worth of internet traffic, companies such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are capitalising on massive online reach and offering brands the option to advertise on their platform. However, as convenient as it may be for brands to increase their online reach, digital advertising can sometimes go wrong. We’ve seen this happen with ads appearing against damaging content on YouTube and Facebook accidentally magnifying fake news in some countries.

It’s this uncertainty and risk that poses a very real concern for brands when advertising online. With digital advertising spend likely to hit over $300bn by 2020 worldwide, brand safety should be of key consideration for companies. Brand safety itself has had many definitions, but from an online standpoint one of the most important aspects of the concept of brand safety is whether or not the content that the advert appears against will be damaging to the brand’s reputation.

An impending ‘Adpocalypse’?

The answer might not seem so clear, especially when viewed through the lens of situations like Unilever threatening to pull ads from Facebook and Google. The reason behind Unilever’s concern is that the two platforms are not doing a ‘good enough’ job at policing damaging content. And this represents a valid concern for brands, as advertising in the wrong places can damage not only their reputation and image, but also company profits in the long run.

It’s easy to imagine how a situation like YouTube placing ads against harmful user generated content, may leave companies weary of online advertising. But it is even easier to consider this in terms of audience impact. Clearly brands that advertise alongside such content can get a negative reputation in consumers’ minds by association. On top of that, 78% of UK consumers have expressed that they would think less of a brand if it allowed an ad to appear next to offensive or inappropriate content.

Trusting online again

Considering that the internet brings some volatility, it could be argued that it would be safer for brands to maybe move away from it. But what if brands could be safer online? Consider curation. The main issue in online advertising is the risk of your ad appearing next to damaging content. Naturally, stricter content checks come to mind as a viable solution. For example, an online video platform can implement stricter algorithms, more specific ad placement criteria and introduce a human curation element as well. We’ve seen YouTube pushing solutions like these in order to ensure their partners can avoid advertising against the wrong video.

Another example would be news platforms. Businesses and governments have been very vocal about fake news and have demanded stricter criteria for platforms distributing and sharing this type of content. Arguably, curated platforms that offer readers trustworthy content would have a dual impact. On one hand, consumers are more likely to come back to the platform itself to get a better, tailored experience. On the other hand, brands could benefit from engaging news consumers as they have proven to be a receptive and engaged audience who are empowered to act.

There’s still an important question left to ask though – how best to curate content? Machine learning and algorithms are a popular method, especially given the sheer amount of content and platforms that exist. Algorithms can be designed to offer users interesting and relevant content based on set preferences and online behaviour. However, these systems alone can potentially be leveraged to fuel misinformation and feed divisive ideas which can lead to confusion around intentions behind every story and every piece of content. Also, by only receiving content based on what they’ve already read, as purely algorithmic recommendation engines do, users can suffer from information bias, rather than gain an understanding of the whole story.

So far, there is no algorithm that can decide what is true, false, or even insightful. People can, however. By combining computer power to reach mass audiences with editorial guidelines managed by humans, it’s possible to develop solutions that work for both consumers and brands within a safe environment.

Online media contains an overwhelming amount of information and content presenting challenges to both consumers and brands. Curated platforms can be very beneficial to both consumers and brands as safe and trustworthy environments to discover quality journalism from reliable sources and a place for brands to safely and effectively reach a highly engaged audience in a uniquely open and receptive mindset. 

Nicole McCormack, SVP revenue strategy & operations at Flipboard

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