Brand Safety During Rapidly Changing Times

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Our country has gone through several critical moments in recent history, navigating our way through a pandemic and undergoing a racial and cultural revolution. We’re seeing support from individuals and organizations large and small, but we’re also starting to see some tone-deaf content or misaligned messages as well. With everything going on, brand marketers need to be present and smart in regard to where their messages go and what they’re saying.

Almost every brand underwent massive operational, and subsequently messaging, changes throughout the pandemic. Just as the working world started finding a new rhythm, the Black Lives Matter Movement took center stage and rightfully caused brands to identify how they could best assist in a meaningful way. And with the fact that over 80% of consumers claim they would reduce or even stop purchasing products that were advertised near unsavory content, brand marketers can not take this moment lightly.

That’s not to say a company’s response during these times is solely aimed at making sales in the short term; it’s also about how they’re perceived now and in the future. These two current situations present new brand safety and messaging refinement needs.

Brand Safety or Bust

While it’s true the definition of brand safety varies from company to company, it’s important advertisers know how to avoid content that could be harmful and pursue content that aligns with their goals.

We’re seeing brands avoid advertising on TV and print sources all together. This is because their messaging can’t be changed on the fly, and marketers need real-time customization options to ensure their messaging is appropriate at any given moment.

As for social media, we’re finding our clients are reducing spend there, too. The root of companies’ decisions to move spending is the unpredictability of those platforms, due to the fact that they’re based on user-generated content. Interestingly, Dentsu and other major advertising players urged clients to pull their July spending from Facebook because of their inability to eliminate hate speech and misinformation. To maximize brand safety, marketers should avoid social channels to reduce the risk of being aligned with bad content.

The best avenue for brand safety is to use highly viewable inventory that directly engages a desired audience in a place free from risky topics. For example, that could be within specific mobile applications and digital out-of-home locations, particularly as the US opens up and people start changing their habits.

Messaging and Actions Lead The Way

Another consideration brand marketers must make is what their message is and how it should be expressed. From the start of Covid, brands have been reassessing their approaches and positioning themselves as timely, needed, and helpful. There was an overwhelming focus on the notion that ‘We’re in this together.’ However, consumer understanding of those statements is different when it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement. Brand sincerity, and the need to speak with actions instead of words, set a new standard for how brands show support.

Many think it’s not appropriate for brands to speak out on behalf of political and societal issues, as brands aren’t people. However, a new wave of corporate social responsibility is presenting itself, and silence is considered a nod toward oppression. Recently, we’ve seen brands like Lego speak out; they halted all marketing efforts around their police products and are donating $4 million to charity. Additionally, The North Face joined the call to action from NAACP and Anti-Defamation League that asked brands to boycott Facebook ads. Now is the time to take a stand, but do so with caution and earnestness.

Technology to Support

There’s a need for marketers to be nimble and make critical changes in real-time — be it adjusting the message or flat-out stopping a campaign. This is where digital advertising shines over traditional channels like TV or radio. Unlike traditional media, which take more budget and time to create, digital ads are more flexible.

Additionally, brand marketers can utilize data-driven insights to curate new audiences based on real-time location patterns and develop a better understanding of what’s going on in different states/cities. Marketers can use this information to target their efforts around areas starting to enter phase two and three of the reopen guidelines and also stay mindful of active protests.

With each new media channel comes a larger potential for brand safety issues. It’s compounded by the current events we’re facing, and marketers need to maintain a keen sense of how to approach these situations. By showing support and leveraging data-driven insights, brands can take the lead and make a positive impact, all while instilling stronger brand loyalty and positioning themselves for future success.

Ken Harlan is founder and CEO of MobileFuse.