In Mad Men, Don Draper pulled airline ads so they wouldn’t run next to newspaper stories about a plane crash. Now imagine if that was happening all the time, every day, to every online news site.
Driving the news: Last week, G/O Media shut down feminist news site Jezebel after failing to find a buyer. A main factor in the decision was brand safety — advertisers reportedly didn’t want their ads next to coverage of issues like sex and abortion.
Catch-up: Brand safety is the idea that advertisers don’t want to appear next to objectionable content. It can be a fair way to guide online ad buying — advertisers don’t want to support sites that host misinformation, for example — and is largely determined by algorithms plugged into automated ad-buying platforms.
Why it’s important: Jezebel’s closure has brought new attention to a pitfall of brand safety: It can (both purposely and inadvertently) divert revenue away from news sites covering important subjects.
Some of this can be chalked up to skittish marketers avoiding “culture war” backlash, even though there’s little evidence that people associate a brand with a controversial subject just because an ad appears next to a news story.
But the technology behind it also carries some blame. Many brand safety strategies use a blunt, keyword-based approach that avoids pages mentioning “sensitive” subjects like race, war, politics or mass shootings — the kinds of things readers turn to news sites for information on.
- It’s not a great deal for advertisers either, as it limits their reach on high-traffic news stories and drives up prices in environments that are considered brand-safe.
Zoom out: This month, Google announced new brand safety tools for its Display Network, a major provider of ads for news websites globally. The “Excluded Themes” advertisers can leave out of their ad buys are very broad and include, quite simply, “news.”