Brand safety in the COVID-19 era

Brand safety in the COVID-19 era

Industry issues
4 minute read

Coronavirus is creating new challenges for brand safety and the media ecosystem needs to work together to ensure consumers are protected. Rob Rakowitz, Initiative Lead for the Global Alliance for Responsible Media, explains.

Article details

  • Author:Rob Rakowitz
    Initiative Lead, Global Alliance for Responsible Media
29 April 2020

Brand safety moves at the speed of culture, rapidly creating new challenges as new topics arise. The COVID-19 pandemic is no exception and represents a microcosm of the brand safety challenges and needs facing the whole media industry.

Except that COVID-19 is just as contagious in media coverage as it is in real life. Data shared from ChartBeat shows that news is dominating consumption and creation with roughly 30% of content touching on the subject. It’s been accounting for roughly 50% of time spent with digital media.


The challenge for the media ecosystem is to work together to ensure the integrity of information, commerce, and content.

GARM has held two special sessions as part of its community call in March to highlight actions needed in two key areas:

  1. How media outlets are rapidly refocusing safety resources on safety and integrity; and
  2. How the media ecosystem is rapidly reshaping campaigns to support responsible publishers.

The first session highlighted four key areas with platforms specifically prioritizing integrity of information, commerce, content, and bandwidth:

1. Information integrity

Consumers are searching for information in this challenging time. All the platforms have worked with global and national health organizations to feature authoritative content in key placements and throughout the consumer content experience. This is a best practice that all the GARM member platforms (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter) have embraced. Platforms have stepped up to keep bad actors at bay and surface authoritative information by prohibiting targeting based on COVID-19 terms and themes. Many are donating ad space to local health authorities to communicate preventative measures.

2. Commerce integrity

Spam and scams have long been a focus area for platforms’ safety efforts, and COVID-19 is no different. Platforms are rapidly looking for and removing fraudulent sellers and price gougers in product areas like personal protection equipment, disinfectants, and household supplies. That means removing tens of thousands of listings and ads on their platforms and adjusting their ad policies accordingly.

3. Content integrity

Platforms normally see hundreds of hours of content and comments posted in minutes and have teams and technology in place to scan these. This is a challenge under normal circumstances but platforms have also had to adjust their teams and how they are structured around issues such as working from home while also exploring how technologies such machine learning can help. Many are being more cautious about the content they allow through.

4. Bandwidth and continuity

There’s a massive move to use media outlets for connection, content, and commerce. Platforms are constantly looking to balance available bandwidth so that all users can get access. Practically this means monitoring streaming quality.

The second session brought together advertisers, agencies and publishers to address the need for nuance in driving reach while also keeping brands safe:

5. You can’t afford to block

Many agencies have concluded that blanket blocks are not sustainable based on the magnitude of relevant content. Their advice is support authoritative journalism and to work with flexible third-party providers who are capable of managing not just contextual brand safety but also semantics. Brands that are comfortable in TV or print news need to treat digital similarly and not tense up with presence in news – so long as they’re professionally produced.

6. Work with publishers that have integrity and integration

Focus digital media spend with publishers who can guarantee safety in the content they offer advertising on and who are able accept nuanced blocklists.

7. Managing suitability is high-touch

Every brand needs to dive into the settings and make sure that campaigns are structured the right way. Every corporation has marketing codes and guidelines, and brands have different creative. Everyone wants to strike the right balance, which requires a lot of calibration – an off-the-shelf approach won’t work.

8. Using digital to drown out the bad actors

An approach presented by one national ad council is to find monetized pages for questionable cures and advice and use placements for public service announcements. This is a program being pursued in the US as a direct counter to misinformation and mal-information.

Consumers are looking to stay informed during this crisis and many brands want to support quality journalism with media investment. A one-size-fits-all approach never works in media, and even less so when it comes to brand safety. Brands, agencies and publishers need to operate from a position of purpose and pragmatism to make media work during the pandemic.

Article details

  • Author:Rob Rakowitz
    Initiative Lead, Global Alliance for Responsible Media
29 April 2020

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