PubForum Prep: Reframing the Brand Safety Debate

Brand safety is one of the hottest topics in digital media right now—in part because it’s not just one topic, but many. Brand safety isn’t only about content adjacency anymore. Marketers have their own goals that fall under the “brand safety” tab, some of them quite technical. And of course what’s considered “brand-safe” isn’t universal. It means different things to different brands. If publishers are to work with their advertiser partners to make everyone’s on the same page with brand safety goals, they’ll need to have a lot of conversations with a lot of different people.

Adam Moser, Head of Ad Tech and Platform Operations at Hulu, will be digging into these issues in an attendee session he’s leading at the upcoming Huntington Beach Publisher Forum (March 4-7). From Adam’s perspective, publishers need to kick-start these conversations with buy-side folks to make sure everyone is talking about the same thing when they talk about the ever-broad subject of brand safety. He’ll explain to us at PubForum how reframing the discussion around brand safety is crucial to sharpening the focus on the bigger picture—budget safety. But for now, Adam shared some insight to get us thinking about the realities of brand safety today.

Adam-Moser_Hulu-cropWhich issues do you see under the “brand safety” umbrella today? And what new challenges do ad ops teams face as a result?

Part of the problem with brand safety is that the term has become buzz-worthy jargon that means different things to different members of the ecosystem. Brand safety, as defined by some, is the practice of ensuring ads only appear adjacent to content that does no harm to an advertiser’s reputation. To another, brand safety pertains to whether an ad is targeted towards relevant content and viewable. Ad ops teams find themselves in the position of having to define and defend against brand safety as a term. As a result, it can be confusing to the teams executing campaigns if they’re not aligned with ad ops and sales on what is considered brand safe for the advertiser. Without redefining the brand safety conversation, we face continued miscommunication all across the industry.

Which brand safety issues do you think advertisers get too hung up on, and which do you think they should be more focused on? Why?

Marketers want to ensure their reputation is not put in harm’s way based on where their budgets have been invested. Typically this has meant content adjacency. But there are more factors at play that can put a marketer’s budget at risk than just the content their ads appear next to. It’s no longer about where ads are delivered—it’s also about how. And advertisers need to be more focused on this to ensure they’re reaching their customers in a relevant way.

How should sales and ad ops collaborate to address challenges like brand safety?

We can start by getting our organizations on the same page. If we align internally about the definition of brand safety, we can begin to address external challenges collectively as an industry. Publishers need standardization with measurement, certification thresholds, and currencies. If we define and attack the many problems of brand safety in the same way, we can then align in how our marketers can entrust us to provide them budget safety.