Brand safety is not a department, it's a mission
A view from Jonathan Davies

Brand safety is not a department, it's a mission

Brands that started out in TV have a different attitude towards advertising, argues Discovery International's head of advertiser partnerships.

Brand safety is a topic that is high on our industry’s agenda. Big, established, high-spending advertisers have publicly criticised those digital players who cannot offer a ‘brand-safe environment.’  

This month it was revealed that Procter & Gamble slashed the number of sites on which it ran ads by nearly 70% over concerns around both brand safety and the efficacy of some digital advertising platforms.

If you want to understand how to provide a brand-safe environment on a media platform with scale, look to TV.

Television always has been brand safe, and TV players operating in this environment have taken this brand rigour with them into the digital environment on new platforms.

This is partly because brands that started out in TV have a different attitude towards advertising and advertiser clients, stemming from years of working together to build each other’s businesses. We care about their brands and advocate for their interests. 

For digital platforms who don’t see themselves as publishers too, advertising has been a back-end outcome, secondary to the priority of the construction of their platforms and audiences. "Build it and they will come" has been the mantra. Instead of viewing advertisers as customers and long-term partners, many digital platforms appeared to view them more as simply arms-length "monetisation".

Advertising on TV by contrast is not only welcomed, but fully considered in all aspects of our planning, second only to telling authentic stories. It is knitted into the fabric of what we do every minute of every day. Scheduling and placement are well understood after decades of practice and constant evaluation and improvement. The benefits of TV advertising are precisely defined and demonstrable in hundreds of markets.  

In the near future, better data availability will provide even better targeting and addressability. The rigour we have always applied to TV we apply online too, so broadcaster VOD is safe in every environment. The content and context in which advertising appears has always been a major consideration for content and brands, and will remain a crucial component and benefit of their relationship with agencies and advertisers.

TV also has been made brand safe by compliance with rigorous regulation. The rules regarding editorial and advertising vary enormously around the world. How editorial and advertising need to be separated varies greatly between say the UK (and all Ofcom licensed channels) and Spain or Italy where the lines can be more blurred. But just because we can do something doesn’t mean that we should; we know as publishers that we have an editorial responsibility to our consumers, our clients and our own brand. 

Media companies are well placed to appreciate and navigate these dynamics. Discovery and its counterparts at other leading broadcasters have clear Identities and guidelines for each global and local brand. These internal brand rules make us who we are and guide us through everything we do. Programme concepts are run past a series of brand filters to ensure the integrity of the channel. Programmes are edited, translated and re-versioned for use in different global markets. With the content cleared, the context is edited – everything from when the content runs, how it is promoted and where the ad breaks fall is determined by the channel drawing upon years of experience applied to technology and data solutions.

The key differentiator is that TV originated content creators and publishers know that this can only be done by an editorial team... bright, creative, brand-sensitive people who have a deftness and lightness of touch that no algorithm or AI program can match. It is a responsibility that we take very seriously. It is why our brands and those of our partners continue to thrive. It is also, importantly, our roadmap to guide us through new means of distribution including digital platforms and services as well as innovations including addressable TV advertising which is being pursued in many markets.

Addressable TV advertising uniquely brings together the power of mass audiences and broadcast TV in markets across the world, with the granularity of bespoke targeting to help brands reach thousands of unique groups and audiences – but always in the safe environment of trusted media brands. If it isn’t right for the brand, it isn’t right for our viewers and it isn’t right for our clients. 

In such a fast-changing media environment, it is a company’s values that guide it, prioritising long term trust over short term expediency. By applying our TV quality standards to content created for new platforms in different formats that fans love – brand managers can feel confident about their adjacency and association.  Trust our brands, everyone wins. 

Jonathan Davies is managing director, advertiser partnerships, Discovery International & Eurosport