Tanya Joseph: For brand safety, look to insight not algorithms

Brand safety is not a new problem but businesses need to be even more vigilant in the digital world.

Tanya Joseph
Photographer: Rehan Jamil

Brand safety and the perils of online advertising have been in the news lately, but concerns about brand safety are not new.

The issue of the editorial content sitting next to your ad has been something marketers have fretted about forever and a day. What airline CMO wants to see their latest ad sitting alongside news of a plane crash in the newspaper, or toymaker see a 48-sheet poster outside a park where a child has died? If it happens in print and out-of-home, you know about it pretty quickly. In digital you may never find out.

Of course, there are things you can do to reduce the chances of it happening. Apart from anything else, invest a bit more wisely, avoid the temptation to go for the lowest-cost option, ensure you and your team really do understand the marketplace and put in sensible safeguards.

But the issue also makes me think about the relationship between marketers and our audiences, and how we build – or, more accurately, rebuild – trust with them. Ad misplacement is nothing compared to the reputational damage done when that misplacement translates to the newspaper front pages as brands funding terror.

As ISBA’s Phil Smith recently reminded us, consumers now trust advertisers less than bankers. That is not a good place to be in for anyone. Except perhaps bankers.

READ MORE: Consumers now think ‘less of advertisers than bankers’

So what can we do apart from blame social media platforms for putting our brands at risk? I believe we have to completely rethink how we engage with our audiences. I’m not saying give up programmatic but I am saying don’t do it on the cheap and use it as part of the broader mix of marketing activity.

For me, the most effective marketing is that which creates a dialogue with consumers, builds a relationship, drives trust and supports behaviour change.

Yes, consumers are looking for value and choice but they are also looking for authentic engagement with brands. If our campaigns are to be successful, we need to respond to this demand more creatively and effectively.

We can achieve some of that by doing the kind of things I talk about all the time – basing our campaign firmly on insight, telling compelling stories, being authentic, reflecting the diversity of our audiences, not patronising, expressing universal truths. For me, the most effective marketing is that which creates a dialogue with consumers, builds a relationship, drives trust and supports behaviour change.

And if these are the essential elements as far as content is concerned, we should also think about the channels we are using.

We all know that the classic combination of a fantastic TV ad combined with great print, digital, outdoor and direct executions can deliver results. But what if you don’t have the budget, appetite, or frankly product to undertake a heavyweight campaign?

I believe some good old-fashioned marketing just might do the trick.

I saw a great bit of what we used to call advertorial the other day. It was in an online magazine that doesn’t take display advertising but will partner with brands to produce content in line with its editorial standards – no compromising quality for the sake of a buck.

READ MORE: UK advertisers split over ending YouTube boycott after brand safety scandal

So when I clicked on the link, I found not brash, shouty ‘buy-me’ messages but interesting, engaging and appealing writing – clearly paid for but with subtle brand references. I was sufficiently interested to speak to the magazine, and found the brand had been brave enough to allow the editorial team to develop a series of executions that worked for the audience and met the brand’s objectives.

A campaign I worked on recently saw some of its most effective results when the digital activity was combined with hyperlocal leaflets at hairdressers and other high street shops, signposting people to very local opportunities to get involved.

For me, this latest round of brand safety worries just underlines the absolute need for us to think more carefully and creatively. Less reliance on the algorithm, more on the insight.

Tanya Joseph is a consultant and was architect of the ‘This Girl Can’ campaign at Sport England.

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