One badly-placed ad has the power to cause serious brand damage. A video ad promoting a fizzy drink appearing next to an article about high-sugar beverages causing health problems, or a banner ad for in-car social messaging beside a report on road traffic accidents; both can evoke negative associations that turn a successful campaign into a costly brand image disaster.
With global digital ad spend expected to reach over $170 billion by the end of 2015, according to eMarketer, effectively managing ad quality and placement is essential to safeguarding marketing investment. Earlier this year the IAB highlighted how brand safety should remain a priority for the advertising industry, and marketers must be aware that a half-hearted approach to brand safety can be hazardous.
According to comScore, a quarter of digital ads (24.7%) are at risk of being placed alongside inappropriate content if robust brand safety measures are not implemented – and the impact of poor placements can be far-reaching. Advertising faux pas from well-known brands make compelling headlines -­ earlier this year The Sun published a report which found adverts from brands including British Gas, M&S and Center Parcs were displayed on sites devoted to racism, bestiality and paedophillia. Social media is the perfect platform for consumers to instantly share ad misplacements and quickly create negative brand perception on a vast scale.
Brands specify when and where their ads will appear but they have limited jurisdiction over the editorial content that their ads will be placed alongside. In fact, it is often the mechanisms that brands rely on to improve targeting that cause ad misplacement. Online tools such as keywords don’t account for the context of copy, which can result in ads that are placed beside relevant, yet dubious content.

How can brands minimise negative ad placements?

The advertising industry body, Digital Trading Standards Group (DTSG), has released the UK Good Practice Principles for the Trading of Digital Display Advertising, in association with JICWEBS. The principles outline the measures ad tech companies should implement to significantly reduce the misplacement of digital ads and ensure brand safety. Companies that meet the standards are awarded a seal of approval.
By opting to work with approved ad tech providers and executing a strong crisis management procedure, brands can keep unfortunate placements under control. These four simple stages will help to ensure brand-safe buying in the programmatic world:  

1. Find the root of the problem

With little control over editorial content, it is especially important for brands to work closely with ad networks, ad exchanges and publishers to identify the source of the problem. Better communication with those who execute the campaigns will enable brands to find the cause of misplacements and rectify the issue quickly. 
2. Take decisive, not drastic action 

The initial panic caused by a bad placement can lead brands to react instinctively – removing the whole campaign in a bid to limit impact. But this approach means brands will also forgo the returns generated by more successful placements. 

Isolating and removing the damaging ad offers brands the chance to minimise its effect. As a preventative measure, brands can deploy filters to block ads from being matched to specific categories within a website. For example, a brand could block ‘sports’ categories within a website, and add an additional sub-category such as ‘tennis’ if there was specific tennis-related content deemed sensitive to the campaign. When placing ads programmatically, the use of sub-categories provides brands with extra protection against automated errors.

3. Use misplacements as a lesson

Poorly placed ads can be a catalyst for positive change. By openly discussing the situation with publishers and networks, brands can gain a greater understanding of what happened and, more importantly, why. This will enable brands to learn from misplacements and enhance their future placements.  
4. Create a safety strategy

Though a strong crisis management procedure is vital to manage misplacements, a preventative strategy is the most effective practice to implement. Creating a brand safety strategy that uses stringent measures such as black and whitelists, careful partner selection, and advanced targeting, will ensure ads are always served alongside relevant and appropriate content.
While it is undeniable that misplacements can be catastrophic, taking a fast and efficient management approach can help brands to significantly mitigate the damage. In fact, a well-executed and transparent response can even garner consumer respect, proving that a brand-safe policy is the only effective approach for successful programmatic media buyers.