Problems with brand safety.

Advertisers will be more demanding to control context in which their brands are shown. And they will pay for this. This won’t be a revolution, but rather getting back to basics which are long forgotten in a digital world.

Not more than 10 years ago it was enough to seriously undermine relations between a media house and an advertiser when an ad in a newspaper was shown next to a disturbing picture of an assassination or a plane crash. It was – of course – if the client was diligent enough to find it. What followed was a heated debate between a media house, medium and people responsible for the publication. The newspaper always defended their position – “this is what we do, we show what’s going on all around the world.” Advertisers answered – you can do whatever you want but I don’t want my brand to be shown in such a disastrous context. Both were right. In most cases an advertiser was given extra compensation if the context was drastic enough.

How about now, in a digital world? If clients were to treat Internet in the same way they used to treat press they would have to resign from advertising over the internet at all. Or at least half of it. It is enough to look at the headlines in most popular portals. As I write it the most prominent headline in TVN24 (one of the top polish news portals) says about a 4 year old kid molested by his father. Between the headline and the text describing those events there’s an advertisement. There is also a line saying that we can see this journalist material thanks to the fact that an advertiser paid for it with this ad. As if it wasn’t enough we can see a hashtag saying #easyachildcoulddoit (roughly translated from polish). So… where did I see this particular ad? Well… right next to a material about a molested kid.

Lenovo ad in TVN24 portal about a new laptop line – easy even for a child. Above a headline about a father abusing his child

I am obviously overreacting due to my professional experiences but what about potential clients buying a Dell Inspiron laptop? Is it as easy to handle as it is ease to molest a child by an abusive father? 

Who is to blame

Let’s look at this from the point of view of an advertiser. Would this advertiser like to spend their ad money in a paper magazine showing crimes and atrocities? There was one called „The Investigation” on the polish market. One of the headlines on it’s front page was about a man who put his dead brother in  a freezer and kept his body there. Not so far from what we saw about the molested child, isn’t it? Meanwhile when I search a word „Wamp magazine” (one of the most well known porn paper magazines in Poland) one of the first results I get is a link to one of the most respectable portals in Poland – Gazeta Wyborcza. The reason for that is obvious – some good SEO optimization could do miracles even if your medium has nothing to do with porn. Stil it just doesn’t feel good. Nudity, murder, scandal – some of this (at least in headlines form) is almost always present on front pages of Polish portals. Mixed with (still) serious journalism.

What should an advertiser do if the brand is shown in not such an „unpleasant” context on the internet? Should he or she intervene in a media house? Sure – they will make medium respnsible. Or google. Oh, yes. It’s a great opportunity to show how bad this giant is. As of writing this article advertisers and agencies started huge debate about Youtube. All of the sudden they discovered ads are being shown next to extremism and terrorism on the platform. Google says they will implement new control measures and will step up to make sure ads are not shown next to such content. But tools that let this be controlled are available already. Didn’t you know, dear advertiser? Or maybe during your media pitch you chose between two offers taking into consideration the price in the first place? Yes – context and brand safety cost money. So maybe, just maybe your media house have forgotten to tell you such tools already existed and you could have used it. But – you would have to pay more.

LOT Polish Airlines ad saying “more than you expect” surrounds a picture illustrating boat with rescued immigrants

Context sells

Is it important anyway? I believe it is. In ancient times for ad industry (about 10 years ago) Mediacom carried out a campaign for a non-existent brand called „Tterres” to see how context influences what people think of the brand. They chose to put non-existing brand ads in press next to finance and business. There was an outdoor and radio campaign. The ad itself was just a brand name – no information what it is. I remember this campaign myself (by the way – how many agencies’ campaigns could there be?).

Effects? According to Mediacom the outcome showed clearly that consumers identified fictional brand as a financial one. If that was so – what would they say about your brand being shown next to bloody stains and dead people on the street? How would a potential client of Allianz react if he or she sees pictures showing war in Ukraine – dead body of a man in his wife’s arms. And right next to it Allianz video ad saying „it is important that your life tastes good all the time”. It was literally what I’ve seen a few days back. 

I really hope recent events concerning google will start to make people think not just about the price when negotiating with media houses and agencies. You cannot negotiate lower prices endlessly  without thinking of how is this even possible that I pay such a low price? Well – if you pay the lowest price you get the lowest possible quality. Expect your ads being shown next to content which has the highest number of views – pranks, controversial youtubers. Do you expect quality? Ask the agency to show you a whitelist – the list of movies preselected for your campaign. Or ask them how are they going to make sure the content your ads are shown within is safe. This will never be a 100% safety measure but at least give it a try. As for now – not many if not just a few advertisers even think about it. Why? Because it will infulence the price. Good quality content costs. As well as job made to make your campaign safe.

Brand directors – be brave!

And so we got to the bottom of the problem. Are advertisers strong enough to implement such thinking? And I’m not saying about the brute force that they present in front of their agencies when something goes wrong. What I’m saying is how strong they are within their own organisations. When they have to go to their superiors (board of directors, CEO) and tell the bitter truth – „we have to buy more expensive ads so that we minimise the risk of being shown next to unsafe content”. How many brand directors have such power within their own companies? And how many will answer when a CEO asks – „if we do it, how willi this influene our sales?”

Dear marketers, marketing directors, media managers – the first step for implementing brand safety is to fight for your position within your companies. It is not just google implementing new tools or media house trying to do better. It is about your ability to say to your agencies – I want good quality campaigns and control over where my ads are shown.

Meanwhile, since it’s friday – it’s time to relax. How about taking care of your nails with Sholl? Dead or alive – it is still important to look great!

Scholl Ad for nail care products around an illustration of burial cereonies in one of the Asian countries
Croatia Ad – “full of life, history and culture”. On top of it a story of a man who drank 42 days in a row saying “I was waking up feeling disgust of myself”