A beginner’s guide to brand safety

Brand safety refers to protecting your brand’s reputation when running digital marketing and advertising campaigns. Read our beginner's guide to understand what you may need to know as an advertiser.

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What is brand safety?

Brand safety in digital advertising is about protecting your brand’s reputation when you advertise. A primary brand safety risk in the context of online advertising is having your ad appear alongside inappropriate content, and audiences developing a negative opinion of your brand because of its association with that content.

Brand safety risks are a possibility in programmatic advertising—since ads are bought and sold through automated processes, buyers can't predict exactly where your ad will appear. In a study conducted by Integral Ad Science, 56% of US digital media professionals surveyed consider programmatic advertising to be vulnerable to brand risk incidents. Right behind programmatic was social media, with 55% of respondents saying they consider it to be vulnerable.

Wherever and however you advertise—desktop or mobile app, display or video, social media or connected TV—you need to reduce the risk that your ad may appear alongside content that’s not appropriate for your brand.

What is the difference between brand safety and brand suitability?

The concept of brand suitability is related to brand safety. Brand safety is about avoiding inappropriate content, and all audiences generally agree upon what falls into those categories. Brand suitability, on the other hand, is unique to an individual brand. Brand suitability is about matching your ads to content that aligns with your particular values, identity, tone, and other subjective qualities.

For example, a vegan brand may not consider an app about hunting and fishing a suitable placement for their ad, even though hunting and fishing aren't inherently objectionable topics to everyone. A website that is very casual and humorous in tone may not be brand-suitable for a company whose brand voice is more serious. Content about how to make a cocktail may not be brand-suitable for a company who makes educational toys for children.

Brand safety is about protecting your brand from harm. Brand suitability is about supporting and developing your specific brand identity by understanding which types of content resonate with your brand, while avoiding associations with content that doesn’t fit with your brand.

How to build brand-safe campaigns

Brand safety measures help protect your brand reputation by reducing the risk of association with content that isn't brand-safe. These best practices should become part of your ongoing advertising strategy.

Identify your brand safety and brand suitability requirements

1. Identify your brand safety and brand suitability requirements

In order to protect your brand when advertising, you need to define what your top priorities are for brand safety, as well as brand suitability. While certain content may be universally brand-unsafe, other potential risks may be less of a priority for certain brands.

For example, alcohol-related content may not be suitable for some brands, but alcohol brands may have no issue with advertising alongside this kind of content.

Identifying your priorities will help you focus your efforts on what matters most to your brand.

Chose a reputable programmatic provider

2. Chose a reputable programmatic provider

A key to reducing risk in programmatic advertising is to choose a trustworthy demand-side platform (DSP). High-quality inventory sources will help you avoid many of the common types of risky content. Your advertising technology (adtech) providers can be your allies in guarding your brand; ask them about what protections they have in place to ensure brand safety.

Make use of inclusion and exclusion lists

3. Make use of inclusion and exclusion lists

Use your available targeting options to determine inventory inclusion and exclusion. Your inclusion lists may contain trusted apps and sites or specific topics and keywords that are relevant to your brand. Use exclusion lists to prevent your ads from showing up on untrustworthy domains or inappropriate keywords.

Keep brand safety top of mind

4. Keep brand safety top of mind

Brand safety is not a one-time checklist item, but instead is an ongoing process. Brands must regularly assess potential threats to their brand safety. Look for tech providers who offer transparency and rigorous quality standards, as they will automatically block egregious content. Keep your inclusion and exclusion lists updated. Monitor your brand perception and research your audiences to ensure you understand how they view your reputation and values. Vigilance is a long-term investment in your brand safety.