GARM Brand Safety: What Is It and Why Does It Matter?

March 1, 2024 By

US customers already believe that half of all online content is dangerous or inappropriate. Enter the need for GARM brand safety standards (don’t worry, we’ll explain it in a minute). Without GARM’s impact on brand safety, it would be a free-for-all of offensive ad placements.

The truth is: GARM shapes the industry’s practices. GARM initiatives create universal brand safety standards to keep customers and brands safe as the ad industry evolves.

Let’s take a closer look at GARM’s role in brand safety and why it matters for advertisers.

What is GARM?

GARM is the Global Alliance for Responsible Media. It’s a cross-industry initiative that focuses on brand safety across digital advertising platforms. Established by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), GARM aims to challenge the monetization policies of harmful content through advertising. Its mission is to safeguard brands against ‌reputational damage caused by poor advertising standards. Just as Seekr strives to empower advertisers to make informed decisions about ad placement, GARM seeks to create a universally safe digital media environment.

But how does GARM do this?

It brings together key stakeholders from across the digital advertising industry. Advertisers, media agencies, advertising platforms, and industry associations, all work together to develop standards, formats, guidelines, and best practices for safer digital advertising. By fostering cooperation across diverse sections of the industry, these groups address issues like hate speech, disinformation, and harmful content.

In essence, GARM shares a similar vision with Seekr — a commitment to enhancing brand safety through reliable, high-quality ad placement. When advertisers use Seekr, they ensure ads only appear next to reliable content that upholds strict journalistic integrity. This way, Seekr provides advertising support that helps brands align with GARM standards at all times.

The evolving challenges of brand safety

The digital media landscape is forever evolving. And new risks arise constantly. Advertisers need to stay alert to protect their brands against unexpected threats. Creating your brand safety strategy? Think about these rising threats:

1. Deep fakes and synthetic media

Deepfakes are videos or audio recordings manipulated to look like someone is saying or doing something they haven’t done. Mega Youtuber MrBeast was recently the victim of a deepfake scandal. A deepfake ad featured the YouTube entrepreneur offering to giveaway 10,000 iPhones for just $2. While the ad was a deepfake, it still associates MrBeast with scammy products. Even though he had nothing to do with the video, it still harmed his brand’s reputation.

2. AI ad-targeting and bidding

Companies are using artificial intelligence (AI) to automate tasks such as ad targeting and ad bidding. While this can help make advertising more efficient and effective, ‌AI software can make placement mistakes if they aren’t trained properly. The quality of the inputs determines the quality of the AI. If incorrect inputs are fed into machine-learning algorithms, they will integrate and learn from this incorrect content. If left unchecked, this can lead to inappropriate ad placements.

For instance, imagine you sell adrenaline-sports equipment and your ads start appearing next to “extreme sports” content. Over time, the AI starts placing ads next to any kind of content tagged as “extreme.” If you don’t catch it, your ads could end up next to an extremist political article that has nothing to do with sports.

And speaking of extremism …

3. Social media extremism

While social media brings the blessing of free speech, it also carries an ever-increasing risk of poor association. From TikTok to X, hate speech and misinformation are extensive on social channels, with experts concerned about it rising. In fact, a recent statement from more than two dozen UN-appointed independent human rights experts insists that social media platforms “Urgently address posts and activities that advocate hatred, and constitute incitement to discrimination, in line with international standards for freedom of expression.”

Just look at IBM. The tech giant stopped advertising on X after ads appeared next to pro-Nazi tweets. As a spokesperson for IBM stated, “IBM has zero tolerance for hate speech and discrimination and we have immediately suspended all advertising on X while we investigate this entirely unacceptable situation.”

4. Ad fraud

In the last year, ad fraud cost advertisers $88 billion. Experts expect that figure to double in the next five years. Ad fraud is when advertisers pay for ads that display on phony websites with fake traffic. While advertisers think they’re getting clicks, humans never see the ads. Click bots, click farms, domain spoofing, online piracy, and pixel stuffing are all ways to fake traffic and trick advertisers.

For example, Methbot made scammers $3-$5 million a day by defrauding advertisers with bots. The sophisticated botnet scheme tricked brands into paying for real traffic. Instead, countless bots watched millions of ads on over 6,000 spoofed websites. Unfortunately, it’s easy to fall victim to ad fraud without ever knowing. If you don’t closely monitor ad placements, you could end up spending money on useless ads.

The impact of brand safety issues on businesses

Brand safety costs you consumer trust and profits. If buyers start to associate your brand with unsafe content, they’ll simply shop elsewhere. More than 80% of customers will switch brands if they see their ads next to unsafe content. Don’t take the risk.

GARM’s framework for brand safety

GARM’s approach to brand safety is multi-faceted. The initiative works with key players in the advertising industry to establish industry-wide standards and frameworks. These structures help platforms remove harmful content and help brands avoid it. GARM’s brand safety framework consists of four key pillars:

  1. Content policies and standards: Establishing guidelines to maintain a safe digital environment by safeguarding against harmful content.
  2. Brand safety controls: Providing advertisers with tools to control ad placement, so ad campaigns align with brand values.
  3. Measurement and transparency: Tracking industry-wide brand safety efforts to enhance transparency in digital advertising.
  4. Collaboration and accountability: Facilitating cooperation among stakeholders to collectively address brand safety issues.

What is the “brand safety floor”?

The GARM Brand Safety Floor is a critical minimum safety level to make sure ads won’t appear near harmful content. This section of GARM’s suitability framework outlines clear benchmarks for content topics that are never likely to be appropriate for any advertising. By establishing this threshold, the Brand Safety Floor offers advertisers confidence and assurance.

Advertisers can feel safe that their messaging appears in a context that aligns with their values and objectives. Not only does this protect your reputation, but it also enhances campaign targeting. When ads appear next to content that aligns with your values, you reach audiences more likely to take an interest in your brand.

Benefits of the GARM standards

GARM standards give clear guidelines for the media industry to follow. This creates a safer media ecosystem all around. Here are the key ways GARM standards can benefit you:

1. Standardized categorization: A universal taxonomy system gives a consistent framework to tag and categorize sensitive content.

2. More transparency: By emphasizing transparency around sensitive content, GARM standards promote consumer safety, brand safety, and responsible marketing.

3. Targeted control: GARM establishes a method for platforms to target, exclude, and report on those categories in the interest of responsible speech, public interest, and advertiser choice. This gives brands better control over their advertising spaces.

Implementing brand safety and suitability in your business

Brand safety and brand suitability are essential for advertisers. Brand safety protects your brand’s reputation by avoiding harmful content. Brand suitability goes further by aligning ad placements with your brand’s values and messaging. To implement both effectively, try these best practices …

1. Define your brand safety guidelines

Define clear guidelines on what content you consider “safe” and “unsafe” for your brand. This way, you know exactly which harmful material to steer clear of.

2. Create keyword and domain blacklists and whitelists

Blacklists, or blocklists, define exact keywords or domains that are incompatible with your brand. For example, you might list these key categories as high risk:

  • Acts of aggression
  • Nudity and explicit sexual content
  • Illegal drugs
  • Military conflict
  • Obscenity

Whitelists define the topics and websites you’d like your ads to associate with. For instance, if your brand focuses on sustainability‌, you might list terms, such as:

  • Cruelty-free
  • Eco-friendly
  • Zero-waste
  • Ethical working practices
  • Organic farming practices
  • Vegan

3. Use brand safety tools to align with GARM standards

Lock arms with brand safety tools that can help you go the extra mile to protect your business. We recommend using a tool like Seekr to align your brand with GARM standards. Seekr’s fully automated (AI-driven rating system for digital content) Seekr Score™ tests content reliability. The score gives you clearly defined risk levels to weed out biased, harmful, and misinformed content. This ensures your ads only appear next to news articles that uphold the highest journalistic standards for reliability.

What’s more, for podcast advertising, brands can use the ‌Civility Score™ to find episodes with a low risk of controversy. It analyzes podcasts down to ‌episode level, to stop your ads from appearing in the middle of controversial conversations.

4. Monitor and adapt in real-time

Keep a close eye on your ad placements. Watch out for‌ dangerous associations and adjust your blocklists accordingly. But also, look for content categories and keywords that drive ad traffic. This strategy can help you build a more extensive whitelist to guide brand-suitable ad placements.

The future of brand safety

Industry professionals anticipate a bigger focus on brand safety to control their brands’ narratives. Brands are going one step further than brand safety metrics to harness context and suitability to reach the right audiences. It’s not enough to simply ban ads from appearing next to harmful types of content. 25% of US customers also oppose ads on certain news topics altogether. You need a method to help you spot and eliminate these topics from your advertising list.

GARM continues to refine standards and promote accountability on an industry level. At the same time, Seekr is at the forefront of honing brand safety and suitability to protect brands on the frontlines.

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