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Brand Strategy Future of TV Media Planning and Buying

Advertisers must remain ‘realistic’ about brand safety risks on Netflix


By Hannah Bowler, Senior reporter

October 10, 2022 | 7 min read

With one month to go until Netflix debuts its ad-funded tier, details remain sparse – but following the release of the gruesome documentary about serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, potential clients are curious about its brand safety commitment.

Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story

Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story has caused controversy / Netflix

Until now Netflix has only had to answer to its customers and creators, not regulators, and crucially not advertisers. This freedom has allowed it to produce boundary-pushing shows such as Squid Game and Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story – but how safe is that environment for advertisers?

Its latest top-watched show is the 10-part drama about the cannibal serial killer Jeffery Dahmer, which has faced backlash from the LGBTQ+ and Black communities.

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Gregor Chalmers, head of broadcast at The Kite Factory, tells The Drum that Netflix’s latest series detailing the “abhorrent crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer” has left audiences feeling a murderer was humanized while re-traumatizing the families of the victims. Chalmers says, albeit a popular show, “there are further concerns and issues, making this problematic” for the streaming service.

It’s not yet known which brands will be among Netflix’s first cohort of advertisers, but with $65 CPM and a rumored $20m minimum annual spend, it does rule out a lot of players.

Alex Gardner, chief revenue officer at adtech firm Index Exchange, asks: “Does a family brand want to be running adjacent to the Jeffery Dahmer series? That does raise concerns.”

Netflix’s prestige in creating premium content has gifted it some level of trust in the industry but, without proof, a Netflix buy comes with risk.

“I would like to believe at the most basic level Netflix would have avoided brands running adjacent to that type of content, but I just don’t know,” Gardner says.

Netflix announced it would be introducing ads in April. It only just selected Microsoft as its adtech partner in July, and two quarters later it will bring its ad product to market. It essentially built an ad product from scratch in eight months without any existing ad sales and adtech infrastructure.

“Advertisers need to go in eyes wide open – they have to be realistic in their expectation of what is going to be delivered at this stage through this new offering that was spun up in 10 seconds,” Gardner says. A Netflix buy is purely for the cachet of being first, he adds. “It’s a vanity buy.” If that means there are potential risks being placed adjacent to controversial content, buyers need to accept that.

“A buyer can’t expect to get that quality of signal from this brand-new, off-the-shelf, ‘launched in two quarters’ project. So you have to assume some of that risk,” he says.

Michele Madaris, media director at Boathouse, has clients in the healthcare, financial services and utility sectors. She says her brands wouldn’t be comfortable advertising on Netflix. “Our clients will be saying they can’t be adjacent to the Jeffery Dahmer series. They can’t be in that environment.”

She will be waiting to see if Netflix can layer in targeting parameters to ensure safe environments that exclude controversial content, nudity and explicit language. “While there are some advertisers that have looser restrictions and different guidelines, Netflix will need to adjust its model to ensure that all brands feel confident that their ads will run adjacent to content that fits within their standards,” she says.

There are a few options open to Netflix. It could either trade digitally, offering to target audience buys – which then relies on brand safety signaling – or it could do direct content context deals like traditional broadcast TV.

Gregor Chalmers, head of broadcast at The Kite Factory, believes Netflix will likely trade using both methods. The key for Netflix, says Chalmers, will be in opening up and sharing its data with advertisers. “The more open they decide to be, both with regards to advance information of show content and flexibility of delivery, the more comfortable advertisers will feel approving campaigns,” Chalmers says.

Christena Garduno, chief executive officer of Media Culture, adds as a global streamer Netflix has a hefty task on its hands navigating diverse advertising contexts – all with different laws and governments. With all this in mind, is a high level of brand safety on Netflix an unrealistic expectation? Garduno references Google’s EMEA head, who once said 100% brand safety on Google was an impossible task.

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