Maintaining Reputation & Brand Safety in Digital Media

Insights / 04.07.2017
Adam Gearke / Display and Social Advertising Specialist

4/22/2024 10:31:10 PM Red Door Interactive http://www.reddoor.biz Red Door Interactive

Brand safety has and always will be an imperative part of online advertising. Lately, there have been reports of branded display and video ads showing up around questionable content that has the potential to present a negative view of that brand’s message. In particular, the Google Display Network (GDN) and YouTube have been scrutinized due to the lack of control that advertisers have on where ads are displayed.


The solid trust that is associated with a brand can take a long time to achieve. However, it can be quickly eroded. A brand would never buy an offline placement on a radical publication if that was not the message it was trying to achieve. However, the rise of programmatic and other display technologies has made it easy for exchanges to scour the internet to find a desired audience. This has the unintended consequence of ads displaying on websites that a targeted user may have navigated to that do not align with a brand’s interests, particularly for remarketing ads.


The risks of a brand’s ads showing up on a questionable website or video can include anything from lack of trust from users to poor perception and public shaming in the media. It has always been important for a brand to maintain strict messaging guidelines that the entire organization adheres to. However, with the saturation of social media in everyone’s life and a nimble news cycle, a negative story about a brand can gain momentum much more quickly than in the past.


Advertisers need to take a dedicated approach when launching display and video campaigns to ensure brand safety. There are several levels of brand safety measures that can be taken.

When Running On the Google Display Network (GDN)

On the GDN, advertisers launching campaigns can exclude ads from showing up on sexually suggestive, mature audiences, military and international conflict, scandals and investigations, and death and tragedy pages to name a few topic categories. This is an essential place to start as it ensures the campaign will not be limited by reach and will still be able to drive efficiencies and achieve the KPIs.

To further ensure brand safety, advertisers can create a list of sites they do not want to advertise on to exclude from targeting. Website exclusion lists add an extra level of safety because they ensure any sites of concern do not slip through the filters above. For example, advertisers have been scrutinized on Twitter over the past few months for their remarketing ads on breitbart.com. This can be avoided through website exclusion lists. There are even more restrictions that can be taken either at the topic or site level, but keep in mind too many restrictions will lead to an increase in competition and higher CPMs or CPCs. A small price to pay to ensure brand safety, albeit one that needs to be brought up.

When Running On Youtube

Brand safety measures on YouTube can be much more challenging.

More than 400 hours of video content are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Although Google has very strict policies that define where Google ads should appear, there are times they have not gotten it right.

YouTube has made a public commitment over the last few weeks about putting in place changes that would give brands more control over where their ads appear, including safeguards to protect creators. In the meantime, the options that are available to ensure brand safety on YouTube are fewer than the GDN. The minimum effort that advertisers should consider is to exclude mature content, sensitive social issues, and content not yet rated. A step further would exclude tragedy and conflict as well as livestreaming videos.

When Running Beyond Google

These safeguards should not be limited to self-serve platforms, however. For external media partners that a brand works with outside of the GDN and YouTube, a similar approach should be taken.

When selecting a media partner, it should be required that the partner provides transparency on their brand safety measures and publishers with which they work. If a brand has a list of specific excluded websites, these need to be shared with the media partner. As part of the vetting process, advertisers and brand should prefer partners that have a publisher team that is consistently updating their list of publishers to ensure the highest quality and brand safety.

Red Door Interactive takes a dedicated approach to ensure brand safety by using many of the tactics listed above. What are your thoughts about the events that have occurred recently pertaining to brand safety? Is there anything you wish advertisers did more of?

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