Display advertising: What is brand safety and why should I care?

Now that display advertising is predominantly run programmatically, we find ourselves moving away from the safety we once felt around advertising on a site we knew, loved and trusted.

What is brand safety?

During my seven years running advertising across Microsoft’s own sites (including MSN, Outlook, Xbox and Skype), although we did have to think about some of the content, such as aggressive video games or upsetting news stories,  ultimately we knew the site featured was good, wholesome content; content that some of the world’s biggest brands were happy to be associated with.

Now, as we run almost all advertising across the breadth of the internet, we have to keep brand safety at the forefront of our minds in a different way. Not only are there the old fears of pornography and violence to consider, but now also a world of extremists, hate speech, and white supremacists, who are using programmatic advertising to fund their causes (according to a recent scathing report of the situation published in The Times). 

Brand risk

Only a few months ago, Google was forced to respond publicly to the issue, as huge advertisers and agencies started to pull ad spend from the giant  because they weren’t able to demonstrate a clean record. The Times newspaper’s investigation found that brands including Waitrose, Marie Curie and Mercedes-Benz were unwittingly appearing on hate sites and next to YouTube videos created by supporters of terrorist groups, including so-called Islamic State. It estimates this could be generating thousands of pounds for the creators of this content.

However, the advertising world is fighting back. The simple fact is that all of this can be easily avoided. What this requires is the right care and attention, ensuring that a campaign has been set up to the highest possible standards. As a brand, you shouldn’t be afraid to push your agency to do this.  Have them show you their Brand Safety policy, and demonstrate its impact.

How to promote brand safety

There are also a number of industry-wide initiatives aimed at tackling the problem.

Companies such as Integral Ad Science (IAS) utilise both measurement and blocking technology accredited by the Media Rating Council, which means your ads won’t serve on pages identified as ‘unsafe’. You can also personalise this definition based on your campaign’s own risk thresholds.IAS dynamically scores individual web pages so that you know exactly what type of content will surround your brand’s advertising story. They can even verify whether your campaign passed your brand safety requirements areas, such as hate speech and violence.

Even simple DoubleClick campaign set-up can ensure that you’re not delivering content that could be deemed unsafe.

“You can use brand safety targeting to make sure you only purchase inventory that meets or exceeds your brand safety requirements. Additionally, if you already use DoubleClick Verification with DoubleClick Campaign Manager (DCM), you can choose to use your DoubleClick Verification settings in Bid Manager to exclude inventory based on the contextual subject matter.”

  • Google’s DoubleClick Bid Manager.

Join the committee for Web Standards

Additionally, we now have the Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards (JICWEBS). The JICWEBS is a body created by the UK ad and media industries that is responsible for creating standards and codes in digital media. It works with industry organisations such as the IPA, IAB and AOP to come up with solutions to issues such as viewability, ad fraud and brand safety. Companies can now become accredited by this board as proof that they’re following the right procedure for total brand safety.

Things are changing

Recent studies show that the immense focus on this complicated area of display advertising has led to a massive improvement. The likelihood of a brand’s advertising appearing next to unsafe or unsavoury content online actually improved in the second half of 2016, as a result of the laser-focused attention this subject has received.

According to research by IAS, the volume of “brand safe infractions” on display advertising in the UK decreased from 7.8% in the first six months of 2016 to 6.8% in the second half. That decline was mirrored in video advertising, with the proportion dropping from 11.2% to 8.9% globally.

Brand safety at Croud

At Croud, we take brand safety very seriously and work tirelessly to ensure that your campaign is protected and maintains integrity online.  

Brand safety and placement verification have always been a core requirement to ensure control is present at each impression. As standard, all of our programmatic buys have filters in place to ensure our ads don’t appear alongside inappropriate content. There is also additional third-party verification applied to fully cover where our ads are placed.

If you have any questions about brand safety or would just like to speak to anyone from our programmatic team, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.


by Hannah Driffield
9 July 2017



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