By Olga Nalivaiko
03. September 2021

The ABC of Marketing Metrics - Part 2: Brand Safety

The ABC of Marketing Metrics - Part 2: Brand Safety

The breakthrough of programmatic advertising has brought along new challenges. Automated buying and selling of media inventory provides better opportunities for real-time monitoring, enhanced control over budgets and targeting, and higher efficiency. But is there really 100% transparency in the context in which the ads are displayed? Do you know exactly what other information appears on the page together with your ads? Are you confident that your advertising efforts are helping enhance your reputation and not ruining it?

This is what the concept of Brand Safety is about. 

Table of content:

What exactly is brand safety?

Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) defines Brand Safety as a “strategy put into place to help ensure that online advertisements or associations do not appear on websites or in videos and articles that may conflict with a brand’s image, mission or goals”.


Brand Safety versus Brand Suitability

These two concepts in marketing are often confused or used as synonyms but there is a clear distinction between the two. While brand safety is about NOT placing advertisements in a negative context, brand suitability is about placing them in a positive context - identifying the placements and associations that actually build up and reinforce the brand. Safe context doesn’t always mean suitable context.

Brand suitability takes brand safety to the next level: it goes beyond protecting a brand’s reputation from being eroded by the content surrounding it, and aims to ensure that the context in which the ad is placed will actually support the brand.

"Brand safety is defined as literally a black and white line between content that almost all advertisers want nothing to do with – things like pornography or terrorism or hate speech. … Brand suitability, however, is definitely a more nuanced concept: … a concept that may be appropriate for one brand - because of who they are or what they stand for – may not be suitable for another brand. The content is certainly safe but not suitable."

Mark Zagorski
CEO, DoubleVerify

Webinar “Driving Quality and Performance in Digital Media, EMEA 2021” (03.08.2021)

Why is brand safety so important?

The context in which people see your ads affects their perception and attitude - and ultimately, their consumer behavior.

According to the findings of the Brand Safety Survey conducted by AdColony in H2 2020, 56% of respondents in EMEA countries said that an ad appearing alongside offensive content impacts the way consumers view the advertiser in a negative way. Moreover, 37% say that it also has a negative impact on their purchasing decisions. The same statistics for Germany are 58 and 35% respectively, which is quite close to the average EMEA values.

Brand safety and suitability in marketing are becoming harder to control: new content is multiplying, and the opportunity for users to generate and share their own content is growing as well. Whether making a comment, sharing a meme, or posting a video, user-generated content is extensive, varied, and difficult to moderate.

What is the current situation with brand safety globally?

According to Media Quality Report for H2 2020 developed by Integral Ad Science (IAS), the average worldwide level of brand risk for display ads was 4.4% for desktop and 5.8% for mobile web. As for video ads, the figures were 7.7 and 8.6% respectively. In Germany in particular, the brand risk for display ads was 5.2% for desktop and 7.0% for mobile web, which is clearly higher than the global average. The same is true for video ads with 10.3 and 9.9% brand risk respectively in Germany.

MMT brand safety globally vs. Germany

These figures reflect the share of impressions on pages that are flagged for posing various levels of harm to brand image and/or reputation through association.

What are the trends in brand safety and suitability?

According to the Global Insights Report 2021 by DoubleVerify, post-bid brand suitability violation rates decreased in 2020 versus 2019. Globally, the violation rate fell 4% year-over-year. This decline is likely due to the continued adoption of pre-bid brand safety solutions, which enable advertisers to avoid unsuitable ad placements before bids – and potential violations – occur. As advertisers become increasingly knowledgeable about pre-bid solutions, post-bid brand suitability violation rates will continue to decline. In fact, from January to April 2021, there has already been a 12% decline compared with the calendar year 2020.

The pandemic made advertisers more aware of the direct relationship between their settings and a publisher’s ability to monetize important news content. Many advertisers adjusted their settings and have continued to do so in response to evolving news cycles – contributing to an overall reduction in violations and blocking.

"As marketing experts become more savvy around the difference between brand safety and suitability … the ability to be more nuanced, be more definitive on what is safe versus what is suitable, will actually start driving the numbers down as well because the advertisers are just becoming more active and their clients … are becoming more engaged in the process"

Mark Zagorski
CEO, DoubleVerify

Webinar “Driving Quality and Performance in Digital Media, EMEA 2021” (03.08.2021)

What are the prerequisites for ensuring brand safety?

IAB provides an exhaustive list of contexts considered generally unsafe for brands, including among others war and crime, drugs and tobacco, adult content, and fake news. However, this list must be tailored to each specific brand and its needs. Some brands may even benefit from their ads being placed in a context that is considered highly unsafe for most companies - for example, insurance ads placed around an article about an accident or disease.

To determine which contexts are good and bad for a specific brand, it’s essential to identify the brand’s key values as well as the main brand threats. Eventually, you will need to find an optimal solution for your campaign by balancing the acceptable level of risk, costs, and rewards.

In order to effectively protect its brands, the company needs a clear brand safety strategy describing desired and undesired contexts for its advertising.

To be even more specific, companies develop white and blacklists of websites where their ads should or should not be appearing. The same applies to positive and negative keywords.

What is being done in the advertising industry to ensure brand safety?

According to the results of the Brand Safety Poll conducted by IAB in 2019, companies across the advertising value chain are actively taking measures to ensure brand safety: 93.8% use blacklists, 91.0% use keyword targeting, 87.8% use whitelists, and 83.9% use verification partners.

  • Blacklists: lists of websites and keywords that should be avoided when placing the ads
  • Whitelists: the opposite of blacklists, i.e. specific URLs and keywords to be used when placing the ads
  • Keyword targeting: classification based on analyzing the keywords on the website
  • Ad verification partners: third-party service providers with solutions to check whether advertising campaigns are properly delivered

What about brand safety in social media?

Although social media is the least safe and controllable channel with respect to the context, there are ways to ensure better brand safety when advertising there.

First of all, some platforms offer their own brand safety filters and blocklists to avoid placement in undesired contexts. When choosing your target audience by interests, make sure to exclude the options that could involve unwanted context. And finally, be careful to choose appropriate social media for your campaigns.

How do I ensure the safety of my brands?

There are several major players in the market offering brand safety solutions: Integral Ad Science, DoubleVerify, and Comscore. They have developed algorithms, formulas, and data-driven solutions to make sure ads appear in the desired context.

The major guidelines to safeguard your brand:

  • Choose your programmatic provider or agency wisely: make sure they are aware of brand safety threats and provide adequate protection measures
  • Track your brand safety metrics in real-time: use available solutions to see how your placements are performing with respect to brand safety
  • Take timely measures when something does not look right: if you start getting brand risk warnings, be sure to take timely action and adjust your campaign accordingly.


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