The Art and Science of Brand Safety Measurement

March 1, 2024 By

Ten years ago, the word “savage” meant just that. Something fierce or devastating. Ask a Gen Z-er what it means now. It means something cool, brave, or unapologetically honest. The point is that terms, contexts, behaviors — these societal trends change. What’s considered safe for your brand now, might not be safe in a year’s time. That’s why brand safety measurement is so imperative. Let’s look at why it’s crucial to track and measure brand safety and why it’s so challenging. Then we’ll dig into tools and strategies to keep close tabs on brand safety in an ever-evolving digital world.

The importance of brand safety

The digital world is constantly evolving. This makes brand safety ‌a critical concern for marketers and advertisers. Recent research underscores the gravity of this issue. US customers believe that at least half of all online content is dangerous or inappropriate. And 80% would switch brands if they came across ads next to unsafe content. The growing skepticism towards digital content can have harmful impacts on brand perception and customer loyalty. That’s why 40% of marketers anticipate more focus on brand safety measures to safeguard reputation and consumer trust. This is a wake-up call for brands. If you’re not prioritizing ad placement and monitoring its effects, you risk immediate backlash and sustained reputational damage. This affects your bottom line, and if you’re unlucky, can have legal implications.

Here’s a good example: IBM recently decided to pull its ads from X. Without strict brand safety measures, its ads began appearing next to content praising Nazis. In response, IBM shut down its ad campaign on the platform. As 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.” To keep on top of brand safety risks, you need sophisticated tools and measures to ensure that ads don’t accidentally align with unsafe content.

Measuring brand safety

The ability to measure brand safety is indispensable. Online content is rapidly evolving, and your digital marketing strategy needs to keep up. If you’re not measuring how changing trends affect your ad campaigns, you risk associating with unsafe content. This can tarnish your image and alienate your customer base. But it’s not easy to measure brand safety.

Here are some of its main challenges:

Online landscape changes rapidly

Online content is dynamic by its very nature. While this helps us communicate in diverse ways, it’s hard to keep track of shifting behaviors, preferences, and contexts. Imagine an immune-boosting health food brand, pre-COVID. It had no issue using the term ‘booster’ for ad placement. Once the pandemic hit, its ads started appearing alongside conspiracy content around the “booster” vaccination. While your ads might be fine at the time of placement, contexts can change quickly. It’s challenging to keep up.

Content interpretation is subjective

What one brand considers “unsafe”, is completely fine for another brand. Lots of marketers think brand safety protects against ‘objectively’ harmful content, like hate speech and misinformation. But, sometimes there’s nuance. For a children’s toy company, alcohol-related content is clearly unsafe. But for a nightclub, this content would work well.

Digital ecosystems are large and complex

It’s basically impossible to track programmatic ads manually. There’s too much digital content and the platforms are complex. Plus, these platforms change over time. Consider X, for example. Huge brands are pulling ad campaigns as the platform sees a rise in hate speech. If you lack the tools to flag inappropriate placements across all channels in real time, you’ll struggle to stop ads appearing in the wrong places.

Brand safety definitions are evolving

Content “safety” relies on social norms and cultural perceptions. Just as digital trends and behaviors shift, so do culturally-acceptable behaviors. For example, think back to a few years ago, when dieting was seen as the norm. Nowadays there’s a push toward body positivity. This perception shift means dieting ads are much more likely to feature next to dangerous dieting misinformation. You need to stay ahead of trends to keep your brand safe without missing sales opportunities.

Ways to measure brand safety

It’s not easy to measure brand safety. With such a vast array of ad placements, you’ll need a few mechanisms to keep on top of where your ads appear. Try these:

By blacklist/whitelist categories

Blacklists and whitelists categorize content for brand safety.

  • A blacklist stops ads from appearing on specific sites or alongside certain types of content.
  • A whitelist details safe spaces for ads.

While these techniques help you uphold brand safety, they can also help you measure it. Blacklist incidence tracking can help you see how often and where ads appear next in unwanted contexts. Whitelist engagement metrics, like click-through rates, impressions, and conversion rates, measure how well these “safe” environments perform. This way, you can recognize changes to ad safety and suitability through poor engagement.

You can also compare the two lists to find your content compliance ratio. Calculate the ratio of ad placements that comply with your whitelist. Compare this to those that fall outside of it or appear on blocked sites. This ratio provides a quantitative measure of brand safety compliance.

But beware. This method has limitations. It can only tell you whether your ads appear next to content you have or haven’t approved. Since it can’t automatically keep up with shifting perceptions, it can keep you from accessing certain audiences. Let’s imagine you’re a charity that provides mental health support. You’ve blocked the word “trigger” due to its connotations with self-harm. However, “trigger” is now a key mental health term. Since this word is blocked, it won’t come up next to content that helps people recognize and cope with mental health triggers.

By GARM standards

The Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) standards provide a framework to analyze content safety and suitability. These guidelines help build safeguards to protect against harmful content. This way, ads only appear next to content that meets specific ethical and social criteria. GARM standards categorize content into different levels of risk and appropriateness. These include categories like “age-appropriate,” “law-abiding,” or “non-offensive.” Brands should assess their ad placements against these categories to check placements align with the GARM risk levels. This is a huge task to try and do manually.

Try using AI tools like Seekr to help. The Seekr Score™ incorporates GARM standards so that it’s easier for brands to measure content against these benchmarks. By harnessing Seekr, you can easily flag unsafe material and pinpoint appropriate content that aligns with your audience.

By journalistic standards

Journalistic standards are the ethical and professional principles that journalists and media outlets should uphold. These standards revolve around a commitment to accuracy and truthfulness, as well as objectivity and fairness. Content that upholds high journalistic standards provides information that’s valuable and relevant to society, declaring all conflicts of interest that might cause bias.

However, it’s tough to manually measure against journalistic standards at scale. It’s far better to use AI tools to assess the accuracy, bias, and ethical integrity of news content at scale. Seekr’s AI is trained on the highest journalistic standards to assess content for bias, leanness, sensationalism, and extreme speech. The Seekr Score ranks and categorizes content to provide brands with a nuanced understanding of the journalistic quality of a piece of content.

This helps brands advertise next to content that aligns with credible and responsible journalism, without having to check this by hand.

By civility standards

Content, particularly podcast content, can also be rated according to civility standards. Civility standards gauge the appropriateness and tone of discussions. They refer to the language, conversational context, topic sensitivity, and communication style. By measuring against civility standards, you avoid ads appearing next to sensitive topics, off-brand opinions, and heated debates. The problem is that long-form content, especially podcasts, can flow into all different topics. While this tangential nature is interesting to the listener, it’s risky for advertisers. It’s not enough to simply work out if a podcast is brand-safe. You need to know where each discussion in every episode is going, to make sure it doesn’t veer into dangerous territory.

Here’s an example: Imagine your company offers family day trips and you advertise a parenting podcast. Your ad for a day trip to the zoo crops up in the middle of an animal rights discussion with a vegan parenting guest. While the show’s “parenting” topic is considered safe, the “animal rights” issue isn’t. The Seekr™ Civility Score™ evaluates podcast content at the episode level. It leverages AI to rank podcasts so brands can judge podcast content for safety and suitability.

Brand safety measurement strategies

Tracking brand safety helps to prevent a PR nightmare. Use these mechanisms to establish brand safety rules and keep to them.

Establish clear brand safety guidelines

It’s crucial to develop clear brand safety and suitability guidelines. Your team needs clear boundaries that define the content that’s on-brand and what’s not.  And they need to know how you’ll measure brand safety. This will guide what sort of ad placements you’re okay with, making sure your ads target appropriate audiences.

Utilize brand safety and suitability tools

Seekr provides you with sophisticated ways of measuring content to protect your brand against unsuitable associations. Seekr’s advanced algorithms and AI-driven analysis offer granular insights into content suitability. This helps brands make informed decisions about ‌all types of ad placement at scale. Partner With Trusted Ad Platforms and Vendors. Pick trusted ad platforms that promote brand safety. Look for platforms that employ strong brand safety measures that evolve as digital landscapes change. Make sure your vendors understand your specific brand needs. You don’t want one-size-fits-all brand safety that limits your reach.

Implement a diverse mix of measurement techniques

Combine different methods to ensure comprehensive coverage. Consider AI-driven tools, manual reviews, sentiment analysis, and engagement tracking. Regularly review and adapt your strategy based on performance data to make sure your approaches remain effective and relevant.

Measure brand safety at scale

If you’re not keeping track of how well your ads adhere to brand safety guidelines, you’ll appear in unsavory places. But the vastness of online content makes it virtually impossible to track brand safety manually. Seekr simplifies this process with advanced AI tools and analytics that safeguard your brand’s integrity at the granular level.

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