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Brand Safety Remains a Significant Hurdle for Marketers

Brand safety still poses a significant challenge to marketers, despite the issue being top-of-mind for more than two years.

Google and Facebook — the top destinations for shifting audiences and ad dollars — are hard at work to combat the issue, eliminating unsavory content and preventing brands from appearing against unsuitable videos. YouTube promised to up its ranks of content moderators to more than 10K, while Facebook rolled out new features to help marketers understand where their ads are appearing. But YouTube and Facebook are massive video networks, with rapidly-evolving user and content trends. To put it into perspective, there are 400 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute (more than 65 years of video per day), making manual review efforts nearly impossible.

Throughout a campaign, an ad can appear against thousands, even hundreds of thousands of individual videos — making it extraordinarily difficult to guarantee brand messages are appearing against suitable digital video environments.

Further complicating the issue, there is no commonly accepted definition of brand-safe content. While some measurement companies define adult, firearms, crime, etc. as unsafe content for advertiser messages, these categories themselves are highly subjective — e.g., movie trailers are full of firearms and crime content. There’s also a wide range of content in a gray area — suitable for one brand, but not another. For example, a gaming video may be brand-safe, but not appropriate for a luxury fashion brand. However, the same gaming video may be perfectly appropriate for an energy drink brand. It’s imperative that marketers adopt a deeper evaluation of the inventory they’re buying, and develop a strategy to serve against both brand-safe and brand-appropriate content.

Whether on TV, Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, or across the rest of the web, high-quality brand-safe content is scarce, and thus in high demand. Advertisers must either to pay a premium for this content, or understand that they’re taking on some level of risk. As a result, it’s challenging to drive scale in entirely brand-safe contexts without breaking the bank. That’s why many advertisers prefer scale over 100% brand safety, raising the possibility of exposure to unsafe content.

Video content is also difficult to analyze, as relying on metadata (tags, titles, descriptions, etc.) can be inaccurate. For example, creators can accidentally (or intentionally) miscategorize their videos, such as labeling divisive political news content as a science and technology video. Even the language used in video metadata could have different interpretations — complicating automated detection efforts — for example, see exercise videos labeled ‘killer workouts.’

Brand safety challenges will not be going away anytime soon. Marketers should see this moment as opportunity to drive reach across high-quality, brand-safe, and brand-appropriate video environments — made possible by innovative technology, and more sophisticated video strategies. After all, if marketers aren’t careful, they could find themselves in hot water — it could take only a single misplaced impression for a CMO to wake up to incendiary headlines in the industry press.

Alan Beiagi is Pixability's Chief Product Officer. He is a brown belt in Karate, and likes to play golf and soccer.