Crucial Role of Brand Safety in a Cookie-less Future

7 May 2024

In the advertising world, one rule reigns supreme: protect the brand at all costs. However, with the rise of programmatic advertising and its heavy reliance on behavioral targeting, advertisers have lost control over where their ads appear online. This exposes brands to a significant threat: ad placements next to harmful content, potentially damaging credibility and driving customers away. So, how can we ensure our brand messaging reaches safe spaces? And why is brand safety so critical for the advertising industry's future?

In this post, we shall dive deep into brand safety, explore essential protection measures, and explain why it's an integral part of any brand's success in the forthcoming cookie-less world.

What is Brand Safety?

As defined by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), brand safety is "keeping a brand's reputation safe when they advertise online." In simpler terms, it's about taking precautions to ensure your brand messaging appears alongside harmless content.

For instance, a new airline wouldn't want its ads placed near articles about plane crashes. Similarly, a dessert company wouldn't want to be featured next to content about diabetes. More generally, all brands strive to keep their messaging away from hate speech and explicit content online.

Brand Safety Statistics - Market Report & Data

  1. 70% of advertisers surveyed reported that brand safety incidents negatively impacted their campaigns.
  2. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of US digital ad buyers view User-Generated Content (UGC) on platforms as a potential brand safety threat. This emphasizes the need for careful platform selection and ad placement strategies.
  3. Brand safety worries plague almost half (48%) of brand representatives. This statistic underscores the growing anxiety around online brand protection.
  4. A study revealed that brands facing significant brand safety issues experienced an alarming 8% drop in stock prices. This demonstrates the tangible financial repercussions of neglecting brand safety.
  5. Recognizing the importance of brand protection, UK companies are planning to allocate over half (50%) of their digital advertising budgets towards ensuring brand safety. This signifies a major shift in spending priorities within the advertising industry.

Why Does Brand Safety Matters?

Why Does Brand Safety Matters?

Safeguarding your brand's reputation and image is essential for long-term success. Here's why:

  1. Reputation Protection: Maintaining good standing with clients and the industry is paramount. The type of content surrounding your brand directly impacts how consumers perceive it. Imagine your ad appearing next to a story about natural disasters – it could cast your brand in a negative light. Implementing brand safety measures helps shield your reputation and build trust with consumers.
  2. Competitive Advantage: Gone are the days when brands stayed silent on important issues! Aligning yourself with social causes, you believe in not only strengthens your brand identity but also keeps you competitive in a world where consumers seek brands with a voice.
  3. Ad Spend Optimization: Brand safety measures often lead to ad placements within premium content. This optimizes your ad spend, directing it towards valuable impressions and engagement. Remember, brand safety violations can erode consumer trust and decrease revenue. For instance, if an advertisement appears alongside content promoting hate speech or violence, customers may associate those negative attributes with the brand.

Brand Safety Measures in Advertising

While measuring brand safety numerically is challenging, a specific set of criteria can be used to assess the safety of an ad placement:

1. Ad Format/Platform

Each ad format, platform, or placement carries varying degrees of risk. To uphold brand reputation, it's crucial to understand these risks and identify strategies to mitigate them. When it comes to ad display mediums, some are inherently safer than others. For example, mobile in-app advertising is considered one of the most brand-safe solutions. Here, the environment (the app's content) is typically tightly controlled. With additional targeting or blacklisting options enabled, the risk of safety violations is minimal.

2. Context

Unsafe content appearing alongside ads is the primary culprit behind brand safety violations. These violations are often reported by users, potentially leading to negative press for the company. Unfortunately, context is quite difficult to control. Most brands rely on the brand safety technology implemented by the publishers or advertising agencies.

App environments are generally the easiest to control. The level of safety measures provided by websites and social media platforms varies depending on the implemented solutions and the platform's nature. For instance, when advertising on news websites, key credibility factors include whether the platform avoids deceptive headlines, corrects or clarifies errors promptly, and clearly differentiates between news and opinion content.

3. Brand Suitability

While distinct from brand safety, brand suitability plays a vital role. The tone and values of an advertising campaign can differ depending on the brand's target audience. A health supplement brand wouldn't want its ad next to an article questioning the effectiveness of such products.

On the other hand, an ad for a sports clothing brand targeting teens and young adults wouldn't necessarily resonate with an audience visiting a website focused on senior citizen activities. In this scenario, publisher transparency regarding data and audience breakdown is critical for establishing a brand-safe and suitable environment.

4. Brand Safety vs. Ad Reach

Striking a balance between brand safety and campaign reach is another consideration. Filtering out inventory using certain ad formats and advertising methods (influencer marketing, banners on news sites, social media) can significantly limit the potential audience—overly restrictive blacklists (of keywords, channels, or publishers) risk blocking valuable content as well.


Brand safety in advertising has become an increasingly important concern for all players involved in the ad tech supply chain. By establishing clear standards & keeping on top of the ad quality metrics, advertisers can ensure they protect their reputation & that of their clients.