Brand safety? Didn’t we sort that a few years back with tighter YouTube settings and by putting ad verification tags on all our campaigns? Is it really thought provoking to still be talking about that?

The reality is that even many of the most progressive brands ultimately rely on fundamental campaign setup settings that they may never have fully considered, or where the slightest human error can leave your brand exposed to appearing in & funding some of the worst corners of the internet - especially if you’re overseeing advertising across multiple markets, teams or even different agencies.

Having led global and regional media teams myself I’ve always made brand safety, or even more progressive conscious media, a priority that affects our strategy and buying. I’ve volunteered with the Conscious Advertising Network, sat on GARM working groups and written guides for WFA and WARC on how to better approach brand safety and conscious media. This is an area I’ve prioritised and put a lot of effort into - but it literally only took a 30 second elevator pitch at an event last year for me to realise how much we needed a tool like Adfidence to truly lock in our brands’ safety.

Ensuring true brand safety avoids the risks & negative implications of showing up against inappropriate content or being accused of funding disinformation & hate speech. More positively it ensures your adverts are appearing in high quality placements, performing better and ultimately funding a better future media ecosystem.

Clearly as an industry we have come a long way and ad verification partners like IAS, Double Verify or Moat are critical tools in helping solve these challenges - as well as reporting, their pre or post-bid technologies are a final line of defence to block your content from appearing in spaces you least want it to. Yet if they are the score keepers and last line of defence what’s the first line, and why aren’t we focussed more on that as an industry?

Especially when buying media in walled gardens (like social platforms) but really when setting up and buying any programmatic campaign, whatever the tech you are using, brand safety starts & sometimes ends with the settings that you put in place during the campaign setup.

There are big decisions to make like whether you are willing to chance just having an exclusion list or want to push towards the increased safety of an inclusion list only approach (be careful to include diverse & representative partners if you do!). There are other sense checks like ensuring key word filters are in place and the right key words are being used.

In particular you need to be careful about how some of the settings that many platforms default to may not match your own standards. Many natively offer different tolerances to sensitive content, or different tiers of self-determined suitability - and in most cases will default to the most expanded & liberal settings.

The biggest platforms including Meta and Google Search offer extension networks where your campaigns will run not only on their owned & operated properties but on a substantial long tail of other sites too. They may tempt you with cheaper CPMs, and at times even being the default option, but they carry substantially different risk profiles.

So, the real first frontier in brand safety is a surprisingly deep dive into the exact options and settings that exist in campaign setup. I’m guessing that’s something most heads of media haven’t recently had cause to look at, but workshopping that through with an agency or Adtech partner to really sweat the options is a critical step that is sometimes overlooked.

In November last year Adalytics reported that many advertisers were having their Google Search ads displayed as low-quality banner ads without even realising it, through their search extension product. Depending on who you believe that either placed their brands on pretty lousy quality content, or actually saw them on adult websites and breaking US sanctions to fund the Iranian government.

I had visibility of advertisers who found themselves identified in the full private report even though they had global brand safety policies which required their search campaigns to opt out of this product. The culprit each time? Just a handful of campaigns run by local agencies or even external teams where the default setting had accidentally been left on and the product had been activated. A few different settings and a whole series of internal corporate affairs, legal and even board level escalations could have been avoided.

Therein lies the second realisation - not only do you need to deep dive into & make informed decisions about the exact Adtech settings you want to adopt, but you also then really need to make sure they are consistently applied.

Of course that starts with playbooks, training and other best practice governance, but in a global business that ultimately relies on implementation by numerous different teams, in different organisations, working to different processes. In many instances your campaigns will be setup and managed by teams simultaneously working on projects for other companies with entirely different priorities and settings.

That’s why it was immediately clear to me that a platform like Adfidence which gives you complete central transparency of the campaign setups for every single piece of media you have running was a huge unlock. That transparency allows for easy global reporting and immediate interventions whenever anything is flagged - either by notifying the teams involved or even by directly correcting settings within the tool.

By the time you put that real effort into establishing the rules of your campaign setup & removing the human error risk of implementation then you really are leaving ad verification tools to do just that and be a final backstop. Of course, new risks, opportunities and settings can evolve over time, so we’ll never completely be done in our approaches.

If this latest #DigitalSense feels a bit like an Adfidence sales pitch that’s because in part it is – I’m happy to evangelise a product I believe can make our industry better, and which I was rolling out myself. As I take some time out between roles to look for the right next step in my career one of the things I really wanted to do was to get immersed in the Adtech side of our industry. That, combined with my long-standing advocacy in this space, is why I’ve signed up to being an Adfidence advisor and helping them evolve and develop their product.

Turns out that when you have the pipes connected to ensure brand safety in your campaign setup governance you also open the floodgates to other use cases. Many brands have developed sophisticated golden rules for bidding across different platforms - simple steps such as frequency caps or optimisation KPIs, through to specific internal mandates around data usage or targeting. Now you have full transparency and the ability to report on, or enforce basic conditions, around these too.

Struggling to get consistent naming conventions across different teams or agency partners? Once again that’s something you can monitor & easily enforce. Trying to roll out a consistent approach to sustainability & environmental impact? That too.

You can even start pulling a simple viewpoint of your actual campaign performance & delivery… without chasing up dozens of different reports or trying to knock together a makeshift dashboard of your own. It doesn’t need to be about ‘keeping an eye’ on your agency partners either - they should all have the login to the tool themselves and be using it to make sure they’re 100% on point before you ever have to login.

Oversight technology won’t solve all your brand safety challenges, especially if the settings you choose still leave you fishing out in the open web. There’s clearly still a role for more sophisticated tools or forensic approaches which truly understand context, track money flows, and guide your decisions. You also need to balance any strict brand safety approach with enough flexibility to ensure you still find positive content like journalism and minority voices. If you have a tight inclusion list for some parts of your buys you can be more lenient with the key words you block and avoid.

Digital media execution may not be the sexiest ad tech out there, but getting campaign setup governance right can mean $ms of effectiveness improvements… or you know, finally sleeping easy knowing you won’t have to explain the latest brand safety breach to the board.

Whether or not you choose to use a tool like Adfidence I urge you all to take the time to deep dive into your campaign settings and ensure you have a crystal-clear way of communicating and managing that across those responsible for running your campaigns.