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Protect Your Online Reputation: The Playbook for Brand Safety

Produced by Hanapin Marketing

The strategy you put in place to help ensure that your online ads don’t appear on websites or in videos or articles that conflict with your brand’s image and goals is of the utmost importance these days. But if you avoid using brand safety measures, you run the risk of ruining your brand’s reputation. Just recently, The Washington Post reported that brand ads were still showing up on polarizing and misleading sites, despite recent efforts to stop it. The article in particular pointed out how cheerful green ads for the Girl Scouts showed up next to content about Muslim invaders and faked mass shootings. Not a good image for the Girl Scouts.


In this playbook, you’ll get a variety of strategies and tools to protect your brand in the areas of programmatic advertising, YouTube, paid search, and paid social. You’ll also get the results to our brand safety survey, which we conducted in October 2018. The survey was done to get a better pulse on how marketers are feeling about the issue of brand safety and the actions they are taking to prevent incidents.


Brand Safety Table of Contents

  • Survey Results
  • Programmatic
  • Google Ads YouTube campaigns
  • Search campaigns
  • Facebook




We asked participants how often they worried about their brand’s safety. 38%, the biggest majority, chose “Moderately Often,” which we equate to at least once a month. Only 5% of participants said they didn’t worry about their brand’s safety at all.




48% said they had a brand safety incident within the last 2 years











29% of marketers did reduce spend on platforms this year due to brand safety concerns. The platforms that got hit the hardest from this were Google, Facebook, and Youtube. Linkedin, Pinterest, and Twitter did not get any reduced spend from brand safety concerns.



To get a better idea of the specific actions marketers were taking in response to brand safety concerns, we asked about training, new hires responsible for brand safety, and other actions they were taking to ensure proper control over the safety of their brand. 90% of marketers have not hired and have no plans to hire a Brand Safety Officer. Only 28% have offered or will offer training on brand safety to their team.






Other actions marketers are taking:


  • Establishing exclusions/negative placement lists/blacklists to prevent issues from sites known to threaten brand safety previously
  • Using managed placements when reasonable
  • Consolidating block lists and sharing them agency-wide
  • Monitoring placement reports for display channels
  • Taking advantage of features offered within platforms to keep ads in safe placements
  • Pre-bid brand safety for programmatic
  • Monitoring brand mentions on SEMRush
  • MOAT for monitoring viewability and human traffic
  • ZEFR or another 3rd party tool with better quality controls for buying YouTube ads
  • Not using KWI (dynamic keyword insertion) for risky keywords. Avoid using autofill that would make ads look bad (i.e. User Googling “Babies” and an Amazon ad appearing that said “Buy Babies on Amazon!”)
  • Spending more time double-checking accounts to make sure they are running the way we want them to and not how Google thinks they should run, based off of their limited information


The tools marketers are using:



While this isn’t a comprehensive list of tools you can use, this is a great jumping off point for your brand to research what would work for you and functions you may need to ensure a safer environment for your online advertising.



And finally, we asked how they felt that platforms were doing to take proper steps and ensure a safer environment for brands. 48% said they didn’t think most platforms were taking the proper steps, while 43% said that they are trying and doing an ok job at it.



We hope the results, tools, and strategies shared will help you ensure a better and safer online environment for your brand. In this next section, a few of Hanapin’s experts will take a deeper dive in specific areas and give you more specific strategies and solutions to implement.


Brand Safety for Programmatic


Due to the real time nature of programmatic, brands do not always know where their ads are going to show up at a given time. This can bring up issues such as poor ad-content alignment, or potential ad fraud.


There is generally a number of harmful categories that brands tend to veer away from, in the interest of avoiding any controversial ad placements:




Avoiding these types of content is a best practice, reduces the risk of poor ad placements, and reduces the risk of funding harmful content or impacting your brands reputation. However, as with everything within online advertising, this is not a 100% certainty.  Pages get mis-categorized, context is not 100% clear to the machine, or the page could be set up as a fake shell, with the look and feel of a legitimate site.


So what do I do?


Choose a reputable vendor:



When choosing a vendor for your programmatic efforts, you should make sure to ask the following questions:



  • Who are your inventory supply vendors?
  • Where do you want your ads to show?
  • How tight should your audience targeting be?
  • What transparency into data and inventory is available?



Private Marketplaces or Programmatic Guaranteed



Private Marketplaces or PMPs are private auctions where publishers invite a select number of advertisers to enter a first-look auction at a higher floor price than the traditional open exchange or auctions.

Why are they so important? No inventory is guaranteed, and PMPs provide the opportunity to create a guaranteed placement on a premium publisher, that may be key to your overarching strategy without having to worry about brand safety.





Blacklists prevent your ads from running on particular websites, apps and video content. Most DSPs will allow you to upload a list of websites and/or apps to your account and make them available for all campaigns to exclude targeting.



Using blacklists also help limit the risk of showing up on poor quality or harmful sites. While these sites may seem attractive due to low costs and low competition, you put your brand’s reputation in the crosshairs by placing your ads here.



Most DSPs have a pre-built list to target against that is usually pretty robust.



Monitor Placements:



Monitoring your own placement reports and adding any additional sites to a personal blacklist is also a strong optimization tactic to make sure you are showing on quality inventory.


It is also important to monitor your exchange and inventory suppliers to ensure that they are consistently providing legitimate content to bid on.


Pull campaign reports, grouped by exchange, and see what exchanges your ads are serving on. Highlight your worst performing exchanges and remove them from your targeting. However, it is worth noting that this technique can have an impact on your scale. If your largest source of inventory is the worst performing, you may want to consider re-evaluating your targeting.





Monitoring Analytics:



Analytics, just like in Google Ads, is probably the most important tool that you can use when managing programmatic campaigns. Campaign metrics such as impressions, clicks, and CTR will only provide a snapshot into your overall campaign performance. It merely shows that someone saw an ad, clicked on it, and visited your site. But what did they do when they got there? Did they bounce? Did they look around? Did they buy? Use analytics to see the full impact of your campaign. High bounce rates and low time on site may indicate several problems, such as:


  • Bots
  • Ad Fraud
  • Low Quality Audiences





Exclude the harmful sites:



When setting up your campaigns, immediately exclude the harmful topics listed above. This is never a 100% guarantee to keep your brand safe, but it is a good first step to take.




Third Party Vendors


Most DSPs have pre-integrated 3rd party tools such as Adloox, DoubleVerify and Integral Ad Science. These companies provide additional verifications of the content of a site, often down to the page level of a site. These are often available as additional targeting settings in your DSP:




It often takes targeting a step further than the standard “harmful” categories.


Brand Safety for YouTube



YouTube is the second largest search engine. Advertising through video campaigns is a unique way to communicate to your target audience and increase awareness of your brand. Reviewing certain settings when creating video campaigns is important to maintain brand safety. Below are the top four ways to ensure you aren’t unknowingly damaging your brand’s image.



Review Selected Networks



Outside of YouTube search results and videos, ads can also appear on YouTube partners on the Google Display Network. Google claims these partner sites and mobile apps are high-quality and help advertisers expand their reach to additional relevant audiences. If you have a limited video campaign budget, or are hesitant to advertise on placements other than YouTube directly, deselect the “Video partners on the Display Network” option in the video campaign settings.



Update Inventory Type Settings


In October 2018, Google Ads updated the available settings for Video campaigns. Inventory Types have replaced Content exclusions and can be found under campaign settings for Video campaigns.




Google recommends using the Standard inventory option to only show ads on content which is “appropriate for most brands”. To exclude showing ads on content with mild profanity, you must change the setting to Limited inventory. The comparison Google provides for the three settings is shown below.


Inventory Type Comparison






Review and Exclude Placements



Google Ads highlights in the Content Exclusions settings that they cannot “guarantee that all related content will be excluded”. For this reason, it’s important to take additional steps when advertising on the Google Display Network and YouTube.



Previous placements can be easy to miss within YouTube campaigns. Navigate to the “Where Ads Showed” tab within your campaign to see a list of videos and channels.





Even if you are proactive with content and placement exclusions, your YouTube ads can still show before or alongside videos and channels that do not align with your brand. Use the “Where Ads Showed” list to determine any needs for exclusions. If you find a video you’d like to exclude, find the actual YouTube channel that hosts the video and exclude the entire channel. Moving forward, your ads will no longer show while users are on this channel.





If you have multiple video campaigns running or will in the future, create a placement exclusion list at the account-level. Having a predefined list of channels will save time when mining through placements for other video campaigns.



Use Specific Targeting



Below are the different types of targeting available for video campaigns. Rather than target all of YouTube excluding certain placements or content, layer one or more of these targeting options to reach the most relevant audience.



  • Keywords
  • Audiences
  • Demographics
  • Topics




Brand Safety for Search



Create and Apply Shared Negative Lists



In the Google Ads and Bing Shared Libraries, you can create a general negative keyword list to apply to all campaigns. This list should include only offensive or inappropriate terms to ensure you’re never excluding any relevant queries. We recommend using negative phrase match keywords to exclude all queries containing the term. If you work at an agency, utilize the Google Ads MCC-level shared negative keyword lists and implement across all accounts you manage.



Quick tip: Nervous you’re excluding relevant traffic? Once a shared negative list is applied to your campaigns, Google Ads should alert you if your negative keywords are conflicting with any enabled keywords. You can easily delete individual negatives by clicking on the “Fix It” link.





Regularly Pull Search Query Reports



Mining through Search Query reports is critical to ensure you are targeting the best audiences for your brand. We sometimes forget the queries that generate relatively low impressions and cost. Pay attention to the low cost queries and add negative keywords to your shared lists if the queries do not align with your brand.



Avoid Regular Broad Match Type Keywords



Unless there’s a specific strategy behind it, avoid using regular broad match keywords. By switching to modified broad match, you immediately gain control over which queries match to your keywords and which ads you’ll show next to. This is especially important when news stories break. When searchers are looking for information on a major event, seeing ads can leave them with a negative view on your brand. Unless you’re pulling Search Query Reports daily, it’s easy to miss irrelevant queries after a major event in your industry or industry with similar queries.



Research Using Google Trends



Before launching a campaign, consider exploring your brand’s product or service using Google Trends. Let’s use CVS Health as an example. Below are the Google Trends results for the term “CVS Health”. Depending on the company’s goals for PPC, they likely do not want to display ads for their products and services if a user is researching information on CVS Health acquiring Aetna. These types of queries should either be excluded or broken out into separate campaigns and ad groups to increase control over the ad messaging users see.






Brand Safety for Facebook



Brand Safety Controls


Recent events and headlines have put a hot spotlight on brand safety concerns. When it comes to their ad platform, Facebook wants advertisers to deliver unique ads for unique people.  This “people-based” approach aims to serve content to individuals based on their understanding of that person.  But the Facebook platform is becoming more expansive and reaches further than ever before, making it more difficult to police where content is seen and how it impacts the perception of individual brands. Facebook has responded by adopting new advertiser guidelines and developing new tools, controls and features that help advertisers publish content and advertising messages in a more brand-safe environment.



All publishers and content creators must adhere to Facebook’s Community Standards, which include policies that prohibit hate speech, violence, or similarly extreme content. Last year, Carolyn Everson (VP of Global Marketing Solutions), announced that Facebook would be “seeking accreditation from the Media Rating Council, the US-based nonprofit industry organization that reviews and accredits audience measurement services in three key areas: first-party served ad impression reporting, third-party viewability partner integrations, and upon launch, our new two-second video buying option.”



These Monetization Eligibility Standards provide guidance around the types of publishers, creators, and content that can earn money with Facebook advertising.  Additionally, Facebook advertisers have several different controls and features to help you feel comfortable with where ads appear.



Controls for where ads are shown



Facebook has recently enhanced several controls for blocking ads from running alongside certain types of content within their various placement options.



Placement Opt-outs



Facebook enables you to opt-out of specific placements and avoid showing ads in places like Instant Articles, or Messenger. During the ad creation work flow, you’ll be asked where you want it to appear on ‘Placements’ beyond Facebook, such as Instagram, Audience Network, Messenger, etc.



To Choose ad placement in Ads Manager, first go to Ads Manager, choose the campaign objective and scroll to the Placements section.  Automatic Placements will be the default selection.  To exclude certain placements, chose Edit Placements and then uncheck the box next to each placement to remove it.  If you don’t see a box, your ad type or objective doesn’t support the placement.






Category Blocking


Facebook can prevent ads from delivering within certain categories of content, including Dating, Gambling, Tragedy & Conflict, Debatable Social Issues, and Mature. You can do this by customizing the options in the “Exclude Categories” and/or “Advanced Options” under “Edit Placements”. Note that choosing to exclude categories will give you fewer delivery options and will narrow your audience.



For example, if you exclude the category Dating on Audience Network, Facebook will try to prevent your ad from appearing on dating apps and related websites. However, it wouldn’t prevent your ad from appearing on a news website next to an article about dating.



While not entirely perfect, Facebook will try to ensure your ad is not shown against the categories of content you choose to block.  But again, this is not 100% guaranteed.



Here are the five categories:


  • Debatable social issues: Topics related to debated social issues, such as religion, politics, immigration and more. Does not apply to Audience Network mobile apps.


  • Mature: Topics including violence, firearms, sexual content, profane language, and more. Does not apply to Audience Network mobile apps.


  • Tragedy and conflict: Topics that contain emotional or physical suffering, such as crime, illness, bullying and more. Does not apply to Audience Network mobile apps.


  • Dating: Websites and apps that have been categorized as dating. Ads may still appear alongside content about relationships and dating.


  • Gambling: Websites and apps that have been categorized as gambling, where winners receive money or prizes. Ads may still appear on websites or apps where people play games just for fun.


To block your ad from running within certain content categories, go to Ads Manager and select Edit Placements in the Placements section.  Select Exclude Categories and check the boxes next to the categories you wish to exclude.





Block Lists


Block lists prevent your ads from running on particular websites, apps and Facebook Pages. If you’re running in-stream video, Audience Network, and Instant Articles, you can upload a list of Pages, websites, and/or apps in Business Manager. Block lists must be .CSV or .TXT files and can be applied at the account level. Blocks apply across platforms, but you will need to block all aspects of a publisher (domain, app, and Facebook Page), to ensure delivery is completely blocked.



Block lists can be used to prevent ads showing within:


  • Pages participating in the Facebook in-stream video placement
  • Websites and apps within the Audience Network
  • Domains of specific publishers for the Instant Articles placement



To create a block list, follow these steps:


  1. Create a new Excel file and save it as a .csv. Name it descriptively as the file name will become your block list name in Business Manager (though you can edit the name later).


  1. Paste the URL(s) you would like to block delivery to in a list in column A


To block a publisher across all placements, you need to include all their URLs; ie, Facebook Page URL, website URL and any app store URLs.


To block a Facebook Page for the in-stream video placement, add URLs in the format www.facebook.com/ plus the ID of the Page. To find the Facebook ID of each Page, visit the Page, click About and copy the Page ID


For example, Page ID 12345678 would be listed in your block list as https://www.facebook.com/12345678.


You don’t need to block website subdomains, only top-level domains. For example, www.jaspersmarketblog.com/food will be blocked if you include www.jaspersmarketblog.com.


  1. Save the file.




You can now upload the block list to Business Manager and apply it to ad accounts or campaigns.  Simply go to Business Manager and click Business Settings.  Click Block Lists from the left navigation, then click Manage, select Add and Edit Block Lists and upload your saved file.





The block list will now need to be applied to your account.  Go to Business Setting, then Block Lists.  You’ll now see your block listed, select it.  Enable Apply to all ad accounts, or toggle only the ad accounts of your choice in your list.  You can also select Assign Ad Accounts if you want the block list to become available when you create an ad in Ads Manager, but don’t want it to apply automatically.


Now when you create a campaign in Ads Manager, you’ll see your block list(s) applied to your ad accounts at the ad set level, ready to work on your ad.


Add a block list to your ad set in Ads Manager:


  1. Go to Ads Manager, choose your campaign objective, name your campaign and add audience details.


  1. In the Placements section, select Edit Placements.


  1. Click Apply Block List and choose the block list(s) you’d like to use. Block lists set up at the ad account level will automatically be applied. You can also click Ad Set Block Lists to add a block list unique to this campaign. If you haven’t got any block lists, you can choose Create a block list to make one.


  1. Finish implementing the rest of your settings and creative to finish.



Publisher List and Delivery Reports


Prior to running your campaign, you can review a complete list of publishers and places where your ads could run across in-stream video, Instant Articles, and Audience Network. You then have the option to block some of those publishers by adding them to your block list.


You can download and review the most current list of (thousands of) URLs where Facebook could place your ads.  Not all placements are included in the list, which currently only includes Facebook in-stream videos, Audience Network in-stream videos, Audience Network native, banner and interstitial ads and Audience Network rewarded videos. The list is constantly changing and Facebook updates it regularly.  You can see the date a URL was added by downloading the list and checking the Date Added column.


To download the current list:


  1. Go to Ads Manager and choose Business Settings
  2. Click Block Lists on the left-hand menu
  3. Click the Manage dropdown and choose See Where Ads Could Appear from the list


Once a campaign is live, you can also download a publisher delivery report to see where your ads actually appeared by following the above instructions but choosing See Where Ads Have Appeared.



For a more in-depth list of brand safety tools and features across Facebook ad platforms and placements, click here for a detailed Facebook help guide.