The internet is such a mess that brands are hiring executives to make sure their ads don't end up next to objectionable content

The internet is such a mess that brands are hiring executives to make sure their ads don't end up next to objectionable content

  • Marketers are under increasing pressure to keep their ads away from objectionable or offensive content on the Web. And now many are appointing 'brand safety officers.'
  • While GroupM established its dedicated global brand safety practice led by in 2016, others including Bank of America and IPG Mediabrands' UM have recently followed suit.
  • More broadly, while some players like JPMorgan Chase are developing internal mechanisms to cope with brand safety, industry trade organizations are also looking to organize to take on the issue.
  • The 4A's today announced the formation of the Advertising Protection Bureau where media agencies will collectively tackle brand safety.

Big advertisers continue to find their ads running in unsavory places on the internet. So they're putting on a show of force.

Increasingly, rather than relying on media partners or third parties to keep their brands safe, marketing companies are appointing executives and/or full teams dedicated to solving these challenges.

GroupM established a dedicated global brand safety practice back in 2016. Now others, including Bank of America and IPG Mediabrands' UM, have recently followed suit.

"Clients are always talking about brand safety, and that's not something that's going to go away," Joshua Lowcock, UM's newly appointed global brand safety officer, told Business Insider. "We're trying to get ahead of the curve because it's not client or marketer-specific issue, it impacts the whole industry."

The brand safety battle shows no signs of slowing down

Marketers have dealt with nagging problems such as fraudulent ads and ads landing in unsavory corners of the web for years.

But the issue of brand safety came to a head last year, due to a spate of disasters on YouTube and Facebook, which made global headlines. From ISIS videos to footage of dead bodies and child-exploiting clips, marketers have found their ads next to all sorts of unsavory content online.

With the problem only becoming more pronounced, brands have stepped up to confront the challenge head-on and come up with pre-emptive solutions to take charge of not only their messaging, but how and where they are actually being delivered.

Lowcock's responsibilities, for instance, include protecting brands' ads from running in inappropriate contexts, putting into effect global brand safety protocols for UM clients and working with partners to ensure accountability to these standards.

Meanwhile Bank of America is tasking its brand safety officer (who is yet to be named), with protecting the brand and its customers, as well as ensuring that it gets what it pays for, according to The Drum.

"The Brand Safety landscape is multi-dimensional, rapidly changing and has direct impact on marketers' ability to effectively deploy digital marketing communications," said Joe Barone, managing partner Americas of brand safety at GroupM.

According to a survey that GumGum released in early 2018, 75% of brands reported to having at least one unsafe brand exposure in the past year, yet 15% said that they didn't use any brand safety measures at all.

Brands are finally waking up and setting the right checks and balances in place, said Ben Plomion, chief marketing officer at GumGum. And it's only getting tougher.

"Advertisers now have to worry about their ads being placed next to divisive and fake news, in addition to the usual suspects like pornography, gambling and drugs," said Plomion.

Ccompanies are wading through the complex world of online advertising using different tactics

The world of online advertising is complex and tackling brand safety is no easy feat.

A chief brand safety officer must not only devise and help the company understand key safety practices such as which publishers are safe to advertise on for which brands, but also be the link between the company and industry groups according to Barone.

"In this environment, brand safety and security cannot be a collateral duty of everyone yet a responsibility of no one," said Dallas Lawrence, svp and head of communications for OpenX. "Quality and safety need to be baked in from the beginning, with brands empowered to make systemic changes to how they do business and who they partner with."

For JPMorgan Chase, instead of creating a dedicated role of a brand safety officer, the company says it has made brand safety an overall priority for its internal marketing team.

For example, its internal programmatic and media-buying teams developed their own proprietary algorithm in-house when the YouTube scandal hit.

"All advertisers would support new initiatives to support strong brand safety; whether this role is supported across multiple teams, a single team or a single officer depends on the structure of that organization," said Carrie Lindsay, vp of media and channel strategy at JPMorgan Chase. "We have found value in centralized functions, but whether it needs to be an exec would depend on the structure of the organization."

On the other hand, big ad agencies are working together to attack the challenge. The American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A's), for instance, today announced the formation of the Advertising Protection Bureau where media agencies will collectively tackle brand safety.

Members of this bureau will notifying the group when they spot ads in unsafe environments.After risks are flagged, they will be investigated by agency-client teams.

"When it comes to brand and consumer safety, media agencies have to put competition aside," said Louis Jones, evp of media and data at the 4A's. "Brand safety and the negative impact it has on consumer trust is an issue that affects everyone."