Advertising, News

How Safe is Your Brand?

Written by Tim Edmundson

Imagine you work for Dove and you just launched the highly successful Self-Esteem Project with multi-channel campaigns running on all social networks. However, you find out that in YouTube your motivational campaign with such a positive message is running next to videos of people fat-shaming others. Luckily this didn’t happen, but our point is it could, and there’s nothing you could do about it. And this type of thing happens more than you imagine.

YouTube recently made its way into the headlines when major advertisers pulled their advertising dollars from the video giant. The exodus was sparked by concerns over controversial content paired with brand advertising, putting brands in an awkward or even damaging spot in regard to their reputation and image amongst consumers.

The news made waves around the advertising world, and has proven that the brand safety issue is a serious concern amongst large brands worldwide. As the internet continues to evolve, and everything from extremist ideologies to global terrorist propaganda are becoming more prominent on sites both big and small, brands are concerned their ads may be running alongside videos promoting hatred and violence.

So what’s being done to address this? And more importantly, what can your brand do to ensure you stay away from controversy?


“We know advertisers don’t want their ads next to content that doesn’t align with their values,” reads a Google blog post addressing the recent uproar around brand safety. To help alleviate concerns, Google has pledged to step up their game when it comes to policing content on YouTube.

This begins with YouTube enacting a number of upcoming changes to help alleviate brand fears. They will be aggressively removing content that attacks or harasses people based on their race, gender, religion, or other categories. They’ve also pledged to ensure ads only show up on legitimate content creator pages through their YouTube Partner Program, and to re-examine their community guidelines to determine what they will allow on their site, as opposed to just determining what can be monetized.

From a product perspective, they’ve also made the following pledges:

> Default Setting Revamp | The defaults for what type of content ads will appear on are being tightened, which should help brands avoid being exposed to objectionable content. Brands still have the option to opt in to a wider content network, with the understanding that they will increase reach but have their ads shown on more diverse types of videos.

> Simplified Exclusions | Streamlined account-level controls are being introduced to allow brands to exclude specific sites and channels. This includes all AdWords for Video and Google Display Network campaigns.

> Better Controls | They will also be introducing advanced controls to simplify updating exclusions for content that brands and audiences find objectionable.

These moves are a positive step when it comes to ensuring brands are safe, but this also begs the question – what can brands do to ensure their ads are running alongside safe content on ALL their advertising?


You can’t solely rely on content platforms to ensure that your brand’s image is not in danger of being associated with objectionable content. Out of all of your vendor relationships, your digital advertising solution should should be your biggest advocate and gatekeeper when it comes to protecting your brand online.

Have a conversation with your vendor about your needs around brand safety, and take steps to make the conversation action-oriented. Provide them with a blacklist of known sites and categories that you aren’t comfortable with; your vendor can ensure your ads will not run on them, and you can get out ahead of any sort of issues.

And this shouldn’t be a one-and-done conversation. Ask your vendor to make brand safety a priority by continuously reviewing sites that your ads are appearing on. If anything should raise a red flag, removing your ads sooner rather than later can only be beneficial.


Sure, we may sound like a broken record — but it bears repeating: transparency is important. By having transparency into where your ads are running, you get a better understanding of what sort of content they are being paired with, and where your conversions are coming from.

We made this a priority with the launch of the Premier edition of the SteelHouse Advertising Suite. By recording where conversions come from, down to the publisher level, you get insight into what sites your ads are running, and where your customers are converting. This is useful for two reasons: you know your ads aren’t running on offensive sites, and you are better informed on how you should approach your overall advertising strategy. Because Premier automatically optimizes your budget to focus on sites that will perform well for your brand, it gives you an unbiased look at where your ads are most effective, and your products most popular.

That extra level of information can help you focus your messaging. Look for trends — are there certain types of sites that are driving business? Are there categories you can identify? Take that into account when planning your next rounds of creative and see if you can further tap into those audiences with ads that they will find even more engaging.


The internet is a vast space, and there is a lot going on within it — and not all of it is positive. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to ensure your brand stays on the right side of things, and maintains the image you have worked so hard to build. So ensure you’re using the right solutions and identifying sites you want to avoid — your brand’s image will thank you for it.