What is Brand Safety?

March 18, 2022


5 min read

Brand safety basically means that a brand’s ad appears in an environment that is consistent with the brand’s value. From a brand’s perspective, the greatest damages to reputation can be ads displayed alongside unethical, scandalous, illegal, or inappropriate content. Brand safety is crucial for brands which put a major focus on the brand image. To secure this, various programmatic measures are available.

Threats of Brand Safety

Malgoritms: Misaligned pages and ads are known as “malgorithms”. The ‘safe’ environment varies based on the brand. Adult content, violence, and racial hatred are among the usual suspects, but there are also more nuanced issues, to give an example, an extreme sports ad appearing in news stories about extreme sports accidents.

Fake News: Despite the fact that fake news is a no-go for brands, Covid-19 has been the golden age for fake news which for advertisers became harder to avoid. The flight from news sites during Coronavirus was damaging to all concerned parties, including publishers, agencies and brands.

Extremist Content: Having a brand associated with an anti-social viewpoint is the last thing a marketer would ever want, even worse when that viewpoint is funded by an ad of theirs! A major contributing factor to the debate on brand safety and its current measurements was extremist content.

Remarkable Brand Safety Incidents from the Industry

As a controversy in 2017 The Times reported about Google displaying ads alongside extremist content on Youtube. (Big Brands Fund Terror through Online Adverts, 2017)

Within a month the aftermath claimed that extremists made an amount of $318,000 from ads by household brands and government departments. (Extremists Made £250,000 from Ads for UK Brands on Google, Say Experts, 2017)

Leading brands like Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo, McDonald’s, and Walmart pulled out of the platform. After this occasion, Facebook and Google started taking serious measures on brand safety.

As well as publishers, brands and agencies have tried their best to emerge from the chaos unscathed. Hence, PMP(private market place) deals are becoming increasingly popular since Google and YouTube’s brand safety scandal in 2017. Private marketplaces account for 74.5% of the US’s digital display ads.

Overview of Industry Standards

The Dirty Dozen+1

The categories defined by the Brand Safety Floor Framework, (2018) initially drafted by the 4As(American Association for Advertising Agencies) are the following 12 inappropriate content categories referred as “the dirty dozen”, including content related to military, obscenity, drugs, tobacco/alcohol, adult, arms, crime, death/injury, online piracy, hate speech, terrorism, spam/harmful websites. The IAB coined 13th category, fake news.

After the initial security steps, IAB surveyed brands in 2019 on their measures against brand safety violations. 93.8% of the brands used blacklists and 83.9% had verification partners to run their ads. (source: IAB Europe)

(IAB Europe Brand Safety Poll, 2020)

Steps to improve Brand Safety


To improve brand safety, it is best to provide blacklists and whitelists. This can be included in the ad verification platform you use, and the options are keyword blocklisting and URL scanning via machine learning algorithms. Content categories and industry verticals can also be used to determine your brand’s black and white lists. It is better to deep dive and have as many content avoidance categories as possible.

Contextual Targeting

Contextual targeting allows advertisers to serve ads to users who are already primed to be interested in certain product categories. To prevent ‘malgorithms’ advertisers can target and block specific topics using contextual targeting, such as traveling, sports, entertainment, music, food, and hundreds more. To better understand, let’s take an example: What if a generic make-up brand’s ad appears on a cruelty-free cosmetic lifestyle website? This arrangement will disturb the audience and put the company’s reputation at risk. Take ownership of your online safety by creating “whitelists” and “blacklists” that categorize safe and unsafe sites for your brand precisely.

Private Marketplaces for Premium Inventory (PMP)

The networks and publishers from which your ads appear are designated ‘brand-safe’ in this media-buying method. At first glance, PMPs’ smaller spectrum and slightly higher ad rates may seem like they have less ROI, but this should bring quality audience instead of mere quantity. If you target precisely and pay up to PMPs market value, you should still create the desired value with your digital ad strategy.

Downsizing the Number of Publishers

By placing advertisements in fewer places, you are less likely to be associated with offensive content, since you control a narrower range of choices that are ‘hand-picked’. As with JPMorgan Chase’s case, whitelisting enabled them to reduce the number of sites serving their ads from 400,000 to 5,000, which resulted in “little change in the cost of impressions or the visibility of their ads.” says the CMO of the bank. (Chase Experience Calls into Question Effectiveness of Programmatic, 2017)


Ads.txt stands for Authorized Digital Seller, a protocol IAB offers. (Ads.Txt — Authorized Digital Sellers, n.d.) It allows publishers to list the SSPs authorized to sell their inventory. Ads.txt protects advertisers from unauthorized selling because they know exactly which digital sellers are authorized to sell to which publishers, so they bid only on healthy impressions. As a result, Ads.txt offers transparency to advertisers with concerns about brand safety.


In the past few years, the concept of brand safety has received increased attention because of the big scandals of 2017. While in-depth discussions and more official security measures are needed, all parties seem determined to win the battle against brand safety violations.


Big brands fund terror through online adverts. (2017, February 9). News | The Times. Retrieved November 5, 2021, from https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/big-brands-fund-terror-knnxfgb98

Extremists made £250,000 from ads for UK brands on Google, say experts. (2017). The Guardian. Retrieved November 5, 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/mar/17/extremists-ads-uk-brands-google-wagdi-ghoneim

Brand Safety Floor Framework. (2018, September 1). Https://Www.Aaaa.Org/. Retrieved November 5, 2021, from https://www.aaaa.org/index.php?checkfileaccess=/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/APB-Brand-Safety-Floor-Framework.pdf

IAB Europe brand safety poll. (2020, January 20). Iabeurope.Eu. Retrieved November 5, 2021, from https://iabeurope.eu/blog/iab-europe-announces-results-of-its-brand-safety-poll/

Chase experience calls into question effectiveness of programmatic. (2017, March 31). Marketing Dive. Retrieved November 5, 2021, from https://www.marketingdive.com/news/chase-experience-calls-into-question-effectiveness-of-programmatic/439383/

ads.txt — Authorized Digital Sellers -. (n.d.). IAB Tech Lab. Retrieved November 5, 2021, from https://iabtechlab.com/ads-txt/

Subscribe to Newsletter

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Follow Us

Other Posts

Time to Rank Your Products Higher

Being a seller in this new era is nothing but a matter of ranking your products in top positions and promoting them.

Read more


6 min read

Future of Advertising in a Cookieless World

It’s no longer impossible to imagine an era without cookies in online advertising. The post-cookie world is almost here thanks to consumer demand, leg

Read more


7 min read

Increasing Transparency in Programmatic Advertising: IAB Tech Lab Standards

IAB Tech Lab aims to develop the industry by increasing the transparency of programmatic advertising platforms

Read more


6 min read

Programmatic Advertising Essentials: What Is An SSP?

SSP is the platform used by publishers or digital media owners. It plays a key role in the AdTech environment.

Read more


5 min read