Brand safety is not black and white - we need to stop behaving like it is
A view from James Pringle

Brand safety is not black and white - we need to stop behaving like it is

Are we going in circles with these brand safety measures, asks the co-founder and chief executive of Suggestv.

Context is everything, especially in the murky waters of internet advertising. Most of us will have by now experienced a badly-placed advert, whether it’s an awkward fast food chain campaign plastered over a video about obesity, or something more profoundly offensive.

At the start of the year, YouTube saw a mass exodus of brands from their platform after The Times revealed it had been monetising videos that were very much the epitome of unsafe content. It was an announcement that sent shockwaves through the online advertising industry and, as a kneejerk reaction, YouTube announced that it had made changes to the way videos were categorised and monetised, to avoid ads appearing alongside extremist content.

In turn, this caused a number of complaints from popular bloggers and vloggers, who claimed that this reduced their potential income, because they were unable to monetise any content that wasn’t considered "brand safe" under YouTube’s new rules, and brands were missing out on untapped audiences.

Yesterday, the company announced a "new and improved" algorithm that should mean that more videos are classified as suitable for ads. But are we going down a slippery slope, and should this change be a red flag to brands?

Video content is hugely valuable to brands, and is the highest grossing display format for H1 2017, according to the IAB Ad Spend Report. It allows brands to be creative and communicate their messaging to the masses in an engaging way. It’s not surprising that brands feel the lure of YouTube, when the platform is promising unchallenged scale.

However, premium storytelling also has its place in the market, and despite being unable to offer the reach of YouTube, brands are still feeling the benefits of working with reputable publishers. They are able to offer authentic attention, valuable audiences and positive brand association that is almost impossible to achieve via social channels.

With user generated content, there will always be issues with brand safety. It’s important to remember that social platforms are not publishers, and should not be treated like they are.

Premium publishers can curate a platform of content that is relevant, and as a result can provide value to brands, although this will be on a smaller scale. By using editorial teams, brands can ensure that the content they are being served against is brand safe.

It’s also important to remember that with brand safety there are grey areas. What is safe for one brand may cause damage to another. But, should this mean we avoid serving any ads on certain content because of the risk to the few?

It’s black and white with YouTube brand safety measures, therefore content creators are missing out on revenue, and brands are missing out on the opportunity to target untapped audiences. This is one of the main reasons popular YouTubers had issues in the first place, and although loosening the reins may help some, this may be at the detriment of brands.

Some major publishers are starting to use a grey scale of brand safety measurement, that allows brands to choose how brand safe they need to be for each individual campaign, which allowing them to have more control over their advertising spend. By doing this, both the brand and the publisher benefit, because they are both clear on their expectations from the outset.

The most important thing to consider is, are we going in circles with these brand safety measures?

The issues at the beginning of the year were a warning sign to all brands that they needed to take back control of their ad spend to ensure the context suited the content. Brand safety means different things to different people, but brands can’t expect both scale and brand safety, and it’s a toss up between the two as to where brands see most value. Now, eight months on, YouTube seem to be loosening the reins, which should be a huge red flag to brands. How long before we end up with similar headlines in the national papers again?

Mind you, I am sure the industry was having similar conversations before The Times broke the story earlier in the year. To me, it seems to be a déjà vu  moment. Hopefully we have learnt enough to avoid history repeating itself.

James Pringle, is co-founder and chief executive of Suggestv

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