It seems we can’t go more than a few weeks without another high-profile brand falling victim to the perils of ad misplacement. The most recent example is Spotify, whose latest ad was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority for causing distress to children after being shown on a child-friendly YouTube channel.

When it comes to content appearing in the wrong place at the wrong time, however, Spotify isn’t alone. In fact, GumGum’s research on the topic revealed that 75% of brands have experienced at least one unsafe brand exposure in the past 12 months. In order to combat this, 45% have implemented a brand safety strategy over the past year.

Even as some brands begin to think more proactively about how to protect themselves online, the very face of the internet is shifting towards a much more visual future, which will bring with it a whole new set of challenges – namely, greater exposure to damaging content.

We already know that consumers are coming to favour image-based communication platforms like Snap and Instagram – but now the internet is following suit with Google announcing plans last month to make its search engine more visual in focus.

As the digital landscape becomes increasingly visual, what should brands be doing to protect themselves against the possible deluge of threatening videos and images that will follow?

Investing in the right tech

So far, semantic analysis techniques like whitelists and blacklists have been helpful in protecting brand content from appearing on compromising web pages, so it makes sense that they’re a popular feature of current brand safety plans.    

However, it goes without saying that these kinds of tools will be of little use for brands wanting to identify harmful videos or photos. In fact, an over-reliance on these techniques can actually put brands at serious risk, as there may be potentially unsafe visual content flying under the radar that’s not being identified.

Moving forward, it will be imperative that brands prioritise visual content as well. That means investing in visual screening technology like computer vision that can identify damaging visual content before ads are placed. This kind of technology can also act on those risks in real-time so that any threats are immediately averted. It can also work in tandem with text-based techniques, to add another crucial layer to the overall brand safety strategy.

But while technology should undoubtedly be central to any brand safety plan, it’s equally as important that brands don’t underestimate the power of top-quality talent.

Investing in the right people

In fact, incorporating a trained expert to take control of internal brand safety procedures could become the key difference between whether future brand safety strategies succeed or fail.  

Many corporations are already doing this, like the Bank of America, which hired a dedicated brand safety officer this year to manage procedures in-house. Meanwhile, the first-ever Brand Safety Institute launched in the US this July as a training ground for future experts.

For all brands – large or small – hiring a dedicated person to manage the brand safety programme is an excellent idea for many reasons.

By having a brand safety officer or team in place, the marketing team will have more freedom to focus its energies on growing the actual brand, safe in the knowledge that any content produced will appear in brand-safe environments.

They can also ensure this safeguarding protocol is flagged and understood across the company, and the wider ecosystem of partners while keeping them updated of any changes on a regular basis.  

Perhaps more importantly, a brand safety officer can take the time to interpret the nuances and preferences between countries and cultures that are essential to ensuring content does not land on the wrong pages, or in the wrong context.

This is an integral component of brand safety that is often overlooked by brands but without a comprehensive understanding of these differences, it’s easy to misjudge your audience and fall into hot water. A brand safety officer can create guidelines that outline these subtle differences, so brands can engage with a wider spectrum of users, safely.

When advertising appears in the wrong place at the wrong time, it can be detrimental to a brand’s reputation, so it’s no surprise to see so many brands pulling spend from platforms like YouTube – even if it does offer massive potential reach.

But by taking the right steps, it is absolutely possible for brands to advertise safely and sustainably, without compromising audience reach, or quality.

The next step for brands should be to educate themselves on the tools and talent available to them, so as to ensure they make the investments necessary for navigating this new era of the internet.