How Advertisers Can Navigate Evolving Brand Safety Challenges

Niamh Carroll 01 November, 2021 

Changes include shifting consumption habits brought about by the pandemic and the genesis of the much talked about metaverse present new risks, as well as opportunities, relating to brand safety says Stevan Randjelovic, director of brand safety and digital risk EMEA at GroupM.

Advertisers will want to make the most of the potential these changes bring, but they also need to be aware of the specific brand safety risks that come with these opportunities. In this piece Randjelovic outlines the major factors affecting brand risk at the moment, and how advertisers can best respond to those changes.

Altered consumption habits brought about by COVID-19, new privacy regulations, increased monetisation of new media channels like podcasts and gaming, and the rise of deepfakes have all had a big impact on the media landscape. The effect of these is making the media buying landscape more complex to navigate, and making it more difficult to protect oneself.

Brands need to be aware of these challenges and those likely to arise in the future. This will enable them to take advantage of the opportunities, understand and mitigate any potential risks, and adapt to the changing landscape where brand safety is a key driver.

Combatting the dangers of brand safety risks is vital, not just for those of us who work in advertising, but for consumers too. We must put the needs of the consumer at the heart of the experiences we create for them, and help make those experiences better.

Do not forget that safety is (still) not guaranteed

In the search for brand suitability, it may be easy to forget that brand safety is not guaranteed. Brand safety floor content (content deemed not appropriate for any advertising support) is still monetised, as made apparent by some recent headlines.

What that tells us is that we should always have our bases of diligence towards media and partner vetting covered, and that involves human and technological checks. Industry certifications such as the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) and IAB 2.0 should play a role in your media vetting strategies as well.

Shifting consumption habits and tech capabilities 

By 2023, more than three billion people will be actively playing games; more gaming, and streaming content can lead to more opportunities to talk to the right person based on location, interests, and contextually relevant content. Where consumers go, advertising follows and, with it, new brand safety challenges arise. 

We have previously also discussed how misinformation is a serious challenge that needs to be addressed. However, while we are addressing misinformation, a new and disturbing danger is emerging from the depths of the dark web: deepfakes – a video of a person in which their face or body has been digitally altered so that they appear to be someone else.

Brands should be aware of the harmful potential this technology holds, as it can be used to misrepresent senior representatives of any company making public statements that could not only impact share price, but erode other outbound communications, including advertising.

This also means that brands must be sure they aren’t funding harmful deepfakes and involuntary representations of living people.

New regulation 

There are a number of big policy changes which will have significant repercussions for how we manage digital risk in online campaigns: the pending HFSS online ban, Online Safety Bill, the Online Advertising Programme and the UK Government’s proposed reports to its data protection regime.

We are hopeful that some of these announced changes will reduce overall risk and help us navigate it better in the years to come.

On the flip-side, some of the state-specific laws in the US are aiming to ban platforms from removing users and content based on their political views. Meanwhile in Australia, the court has ruled that media companies are responsible for comments left on their posts on social media, finding that their sharing amounted to “participation” in the communication of defamatory material.

While some of the laws or rulings may not stand, these developments challenge the notion of brand and user safety. 

The dawn of the metaverse

As virtual worlds emerge and converge with each other, we must build them with safety and privacy in mind.

The metaverse can be defined as a virtual-reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users. While it might be a while before we effectively start using the metaverse (beyond gaming) at scale, the decisions made today about how people will be able to interact in those metaverses will affect how safe or unsafe these spaces will be.

It is our duty to advocate for inclusive, privacy-friendly and sustainable solutions.

Boom of ecommerce

At the start of the year, investment company Finaria predicted the global number of ecommerce users would increase by 400 million by the end of 2021. We are also witnessing a boom of social commerce.

The ad placements should be judged like any other – on the basis of availability, scale and effectiveness.

But as the ecommerce boom continues, we may expect to see intellectual property enforcement step up. This has repercussions for advertisers too, who should seek greater assurances that the platforms they sell their brands on do not allow any counterfeit goods to be sold.

GARM Brand Safety & Suitability Framework 

Finally, as we expand into new channels such as gaming, audio, VOD and others, cross-channel-device standardisation of harmful categories will become even more important.

We strongly advocate for the industry’s adoption of the GARM Brand Safety and Suitability Framework, especially on the tech and supply side. Imagine how many more investment opportunities would open up if clients were able to buy ‘medium’ or ‘low’ risk content across channels knowing that the definitions (and delivery!) are somewhat aligned.


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