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Brand Safety

The web is not a private space.

It’s a public marketplace where brands manage their online presence and users navigate digital media freely. It’s this open and unregulated dynamic that has made brand safety an essential consideration for marketers in 2019. With more user-generated content being consumed than ever before, brands can’t be too critical of where and when their messaging appears.

Maintaining brand safety is no easy task. According to one report, 75% of companies experience at least one brand safety incident a year. Thankfully, as customers increasingly rely on smartphones to access digital content, in-app advertising can provide a welcome reprieve from the otherwise stressful challenge of brand safety.

What is brand safety?

Brand safety is the practice of ensuring branded advertisements are not deployed in spaces that host inappropriate content that might conflict with a company’s ideals, ethics, or mission statement. While brand safety incidents are almost always accidental, they can create negative associations which can lead to a decline in brand sentiment and revenue, or worse. Here are just a few real-world examples:

  • The Sunday Times published an investigation into household brands that inadvertently funded terror groups through programmatic advertising
  • Scammers use rarely-viewed web pages — such as terms of service or privacy policy documents — as platforms for ad fraud
  • Advertisers began leaving YouTube after a pedophile ring was discovered sharing illegal content in comment pages of videos featuring minors.

This last example highlights a relatively new challenge to brand-safety — the rise of user-generated content. As web platforms allow everyday consumers to share videos, photos, and comments, brands can never be 100% certain their ads are deployed in a safe environment. Even if marketers create whitelists for “safe” platforms like Facebook or YouTube, user-generated content can expose them to egregious brand safety risks.

These risks are not minor concerns. While most ads are assigned programmatically, studies show that customers assume brands have fully endorsed them. Safety certification tools like those offered by Facebook have major limitations, prompting advertisers to demand updates. What’s more, these tools often take the form of machine learning systems that struggle to meet the problem at scale. After years of breaches, even Google has admitted that YouTube may never be fully brand safe.

How in-app advertising helps ensure brand safety

There are many ways marketers can address brand safety, including the advertising whitelists and machine learning systems mentioned above. The best way, however, is to focus on channels with limited exposure to user content and some level of editorial monitoring. In-app advertising is one option, but others include traditional television, radio, and OTT platforms. These formats inherently avoid most brand safety hazards while giving marketers more control over the ways creative is deployed.

As an in-app advertising specialist, ironSource is deeply familiar with how the format cultivates brand safety. We are a mobile advertising network that works with many first-party publishers, and take pride in adopting brand safety practices that help prevent incidents entirely.

Here are a few ways ironSource can ensure your in-app ads are brand safe:

Minimal user-generated content

Since brand safety risks are a matter of association, distinct barriers between app content and advertisements encourages users to view them as independent entities.This runs in direct contrast to banner ads on desktop and mobile web sources, which constantly create visual associations — assuming users see them at all.

Almost 99% of app content is not user-generated. In the few cases where user-generated content remains a risk — ironSource goes a step further. All advertisements — from mobile video to playables — are displayed in a full-screen format. Because they don’t share screen real-estate with any other content and therefore aren’t subject to the same visual associations as traditional display formats, brands can rest easy knowing that users won’t mistake their presence for an endorsement of disreputable material. Better still, in-app ads enjoy a third layer of defense in the form of the Apple and Google editorial process.

Platform monitored environment

While all apps in the Apple and Google Play stores go through editorial revisions by their in-house review teams, mobile games are one of the most rigorously reviewed thanks to their incredible value to platform providers. Mobile games represent roughly 80% of all revenue generated by the app stores, so they have good reason to protect them. This practice is in stark contrast with the broader mobile web — imagine how different the internet might look if regulators had to oversee every single web page ever produced! Yet this oversight is essential for mobile games. Any inappropriate content included in a new app or an update gets flagged in the review process, ensuring the possibility of negative brand associations never even makes it to the live app store environment.

Even post-launch, apps are subject to periodic review to ensure they meet brand safety standards. Apple is especially judicious on this front, since app fraud and inappropriate content impacts its own brand safety as well.

Perhaps Google is correct that the mobile ecosystem will never be fully brand safe. But some formats are clearly more secure than others, as ironSource can attest from experience. Our in-app advertising formats are specifically designed to prioritize brand safety, letting advertisers know their ads will always make the right first impression.

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