Brand safety & online ads: Manage risks to your small business’s reputation

Brand safety has become a key marketing concept, almost overnight. Now 72% of CMOs say they’re worried about brand safety and brand risk, while 77% of brand marketers say that their ROI hangs in the balance. But what is brand safety… and how can you protect your business?

What is brand safety?

Digital advertising has opened up a whole new world for marketers in the last couple of decades. Now you can target consumers based on their Google searches, their favorite YouTube videos, or the pages they like on Facebook.

But there is a flip side: brand risk, when your brand becomes associated with something negative or unpleasant online.

When ads are automatically positioned based on keywords and common interests, sometimes they appear in unfortunate locations. For example, a company that sells garden tools and hardware might not be too happy if their ads appear next a news article about an ax murderer.

And sometimes, accidents happen that can’t be blamed on the algorithm—like when pizza chain DiGiorno failed to check the meaning behind the trending hashtag #WhyIStayed. They were chatting about pizza while Twitter users shared their very real, and very serious, stories of domestic violence.

That’s pretty much a marketing team’s worst nightmare. So how can you protect your reputation and brand safety, without giving up on digital advertising?

As this chart from Digiday shows, there’s still some debate on who is responsible for brand safety, but ad publishers do play a major role. We’ll look at actions you can take and how to make your needs clear.

Source: Digiday

Get started with a reputational risk strategy

First of all, your brand safety plan should be part of a wider strategy. Take the time to perform a reputational risk assessment for your brand. (This guide in the Wall Street Journal is a good place to start.)

Identify the flash points for your brand and industry:

  • Are there any keywords you want to avoid?
  • What are the biggest risks to your business, such as product errors or data breaches?
  • Does everyone on the team know your crisis management plan? Every department should contribute their ideas.

Your brand safety plan is a key part of this strategy. Use information from every aspect of your business to help prepare for any possible issues.

Brand safety and online ads

Most businesses now use Google Ads, whether you place them in search results, on other websites, or in mobile apps.

You’re probably used to targeting ads based on your preferred audience and keywords. But you can also pick out keywords to avoid.

Use the Negative Keywords tool to make sure that your content only appears in the right places, where customers will receive it positively. You can exclude specific topics and types of site from your ad bids.

Here’s an example from Google of how the Ads platform might make decisions if you listed “running shoes” as a negative keyword.

These tools are not solely designed for brand safety. With a judicious choice of keywords, you can use the blacklisting tools to target your ad campaigns even more specifically.

Brand safety on social media

When it comes to social media, the key to brand safety is due diligence. Never join a trending topic, use a hashtag, or share a meme without checking its background.

Most social networks now have established ad platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram Ads. On most of these platforms, you can target ads based on keywords and user behavior and interests, and use the same filters to avoid negative ad placements.

However, it’s a good idea to follow the business blogs and newsletters of the social networks that you use. Even established networks, like Twitter’s ad platform, have occasional teething problems.

Brand safety: Keep your eye on the ball

If you monitor your ad campaigns carefully, you should be able to identify brand safety issues before they develop. Over time, you can also develop a standard list of negative keywords and blacklisted sites or topics. And of course, you can avoid most brand safety problems by buying ads directly from reputable platforms and following their best practices.

Management consultant and brand strategist for small teams. Fan of dark tea, thick books, peace, and unity.

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