Is your brand safe from terrorism?

Context is all online, so it is vital that brands protect themselves against damaging links to offensive content

Hale…“Never before has there been so much attention drawn to brand safety”
Hale…“Never before has there been so much attention drawn to brand safety”

Recently a slew of advertisers, including Walmart, Coca-Cola and General Motors, announced plans to move adspend away from YouTube. The dramatic switch was initiated because ads, including theirs, appeared alongside offensive content, such as videos posted by Jihadist and neo-Nazis, helping fund these groups.

For advertisers to band together and stage such a dramatic boycott of a major media channel, openly voicing concerns about brand "safety", begs the question why. Why is it that no one thought to ask: "What is my ad appearing next to?" Surely, this is one of the fundamental questions asked in advertising. How is it that these advertisers and their agencies lost track of what content they were running and where?

Never before has there been so much attention drawn to brand safety. In her maiden speech as IPA president in April, Sarah Golding, who is also the chief executive at CHI & Partners, highlighted the need for the industry to step up its game, stating that an estimated 20% of the total $32bn spent on digital video and display advertising is fraudulently billed. 

Google’s effort to address the issue of brand safety by agreeing to work with outside companies to verify where ads appear on YouTube is to be applauded, but is it enough? How can brands in this new world be assured their content is safe and secure?

The production and distribution of content has multiplied exponentially over the past few years. Every minute, more than 300 hours of video is uploaded. Advertising is no longer as simple as a radio, TV or print execution. Effective campaigns sometimes include thousands of pieces of collateral; each tailored to a specific customer profile and specced to thousands of devices.

With the sheer number of people, processes and numbers involved in producing an ad campaign, it’s hardly surprising that advertisers and their agencies forgot to ask: "Where is my ad appearing?" Who should be blamed? The channels for growing too fast? The agencies for scrambling to keep up with what were previously normal profit margins? Or the brands for trying to increase global efficiency too fast, too soon? Perhaps all three.

"Never before has there been so much attention drawn to brand safety"

It’s time for brands and agencies to take stock of what is and isn’t  being done. Managing ads without technology in the 21st century poses a severe risk to brand safety – an irresponsibility that can be avoided.

Some steps to assist 

1. Link linear and digital content together, so there is an overview of everything.  One piece of the puzzle is not enough.
2. Assign metadata to every piece of content. Save time and make sure it’s done – automate it.  
3. Ensure your content is managed in the cloud by a registered service-provider.
4. Hook into a media-monitoring network and track where content is playing out.
5. Implement an online approval system to speed up turnaround time.
6. Consolidate production processes into one system.
7. Connect digital asset management and delivery networks.
8. Bring teams and partners into the same network to cut com-munication time and ensure full transparency of all activity.
9. Tag all content with rights management. 
10. Implement a reporting system to monitor performance and deliver strategic insight.

Negative associations

1. A recent report by The Times highlighted the potential for brands’ ads to end up on extremist websites.

2. Some of the world’s biggest brands were thus unwittingly funding Islamic extremists, white supremacists and pornographers.

3. The ads are likely to generate tens of thousands of pounds a month for extremists.

4. The Times found ads for Waitrose, Marie Curie and Mercedes, among others, were appearing on hate sites and alongside offensive YouTube videos.

5. An investigation by The Sun in 2013 found ads were appearing next to pornography.

To finish, one final quote from Golding: "Machines will change many things, but not the dedication… [to the] brilliance of advertising. The machines will be our new colleagues. And they will be the smartest, fastest, most incredible colleagues any of us has had. I can’t wait to start making magic with them."

Let’s look forward to a future where brand safety is assured through smart technology. 

Charlotte Hale is managing director UK at Adstream


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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).