Rob Rakowitz, former head of media at Mars, once described brand safety as “a constant game of whack-a-mole.”
The game has only gotten more urgent and intense in the last year. A Sizmek study found 64% of marketers struggle to implement an effective brand safety strategy.
Rob now leads a task force at the World Federation of Advertising (WFA) trying to address this collectively with brands, tech, and media companies. This group, the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM), has been working on a common definition of what unsafe content even means, and debating some of the nuances of brand suitability, recognizing that thresholds will be different for different brands.
(I’m speaking at a WFA event in the next month that includes some of these thorny issues, so I’ve been trying to get up to speed on some of the many implications for marketers).
Much of the traditional approach to brand safety has been reactive. Tools like keyword and URL blocklists are notoriously clumsy and lack context. The term “Ariana Grande” was one of the top 20 most blocked keywords of 2017, following the bombing at a Manchester concert, which obviously impacted more than content related to the tragedy. Legitimate news sites lose advertising revenue covering important topics swept up in one-size-fits-all keyword blocklists.
As marketers shift from a reactive to a proactive approach, it will be interesting to see how the whack-a-mole game evolves.
Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years: