Zehnder Communications, Inc.

Keeping Your Brand Safe Online Isn’t Easy, and It’s About to Get More Complicated

If your company’s ads appear online, your rep has probably mentioned brand safety. It’s one of the industry’s biggest buzzwords this year, especially in light of all the fallout over fake news stories.

When discussing online brand safety, it’s usually in the context of making sure clients’ ads don’t run on inappropriate websites. Ideally, it’s probably best to think of brand safety in terms of shepherding all ads to ensure they run in the most effective places while avoiding bad placement, or what the industry calls negative adjacency.

Obviously, you don’t want your digital ad turning up on a site with vulgar or controversial material. But other kinds of sites can lead to negative adjacencies. If your business is a Gulf Coast beach destination, for example, you don’t want your ad on a website about the damage from Gulf Coast hurricanes.

Brand safety certainly isn’t new or limited to digital ads, but it’s absolutely critical online. Unlike broadcast and print, consumers tend to pay much more attention to the location of digital ads. As a result, they’re more likely to take online ads as endorsements of the content in which they appear.

Unfortunately, the marketplace doesn’t always make it easy to keep brands safe. Digital ads are sold through networks that are programmatic, meaning they automate the decision-making process of media buying. In many cases, advertisers aren’t aware of negative adjacencies until they’ve already occurred.

Keeping the human element is key, says Kate Lundin, Zehnder’s associate media director.

“Brand safety starts with a lot of planning before any ad space is bought and sold,” she says. “After a buy is placed, our paid media and social media teams work together to see how ads are performing and where they’re placed across networks. That takes coordination and communication.”

Talk to your media buyers and ask questions. Lundin says they aren’t required to be technical experts, but they should be familiar with the technical aspect and be able to explain brand safety measures that are taken.

DoubleClick Ad Manager, for example, is a commonly used server for placing digital ad buys. Lundin says that when submitting ads to DoubleClick, media buyers should take advantage of electronic settings that offer basic protection from unwanted websites.

Most agencies work directly with media publishers in developing whitelists and blacklists to specify which sites are approved and banned for each ad. Updating and managing lists take time, but it’s effective protection.

“Your media buyer should also be comfortable with placing direct ad buys,” Lundin says. “If it’s a high-performing site or network with a relevant audience, sometimes it’s best to go right to the source.”

Lundin offers one more note. Starting in June 2018, the Internet Advertising Bureau, an industry trade group and a leader in setting standards and guidelines, will make it mandatory for its web-publisher members to register with a new accountability program.

The Trustworthy Accountability Group, or TAG, is a joint effort by numerous professional groups to fight fraud and criminal activity, and promote transparency in inventory. Media buyers should be aware of the program and how to keep your ads TAG-compliant.

If you’d like to know more about brand safety and keeping your digital ads in the best space, reach Kate Lundin at or (504) 962-3721.

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