It’s worth reminding ourselves why brand safety matters and how global advertisers have taken the lead in trying to make digital platforms places where they are comfortable for their brands to appear. WFA CEO Stephan Loerke explains.
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It won’t be lost on anyone that Twitter has been in the news a lot lately. It’s rare that corporate takeovers send ripples across the senior marketing function but this one has attracted serious concerns among our members because of its potential to increase reputational risks for brands.
Since 2019, when we launched the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) at Cannes, pledging collaboration between advertisers, agency groups and the big online platforms, there has been real progress.
We have agreed definitions and controls that allow brands to be more comfortable about appearing on digital platforms. They allow them to control the level of risk they are happy to accept thanks to agreed minimum standards that must be met before content is monetized.
We have backed this up with multiple reports monitoring our areas of concern and detailing the actions that are being taken by the platforms to ensure content that attracts advertising is safe for brands.
Concerns around this issue were dramatically accelerated by the London Times reporting that big brands were unwittingly funding Islamic extremism in in 2017 with online ads and came to a head in February 2019 with the global industry response to the horrific Christchurch massacre in New Zealand, which was livestreamed on Facebook.
Our commitment to a better digital ecosystem for brands has been unswerving ever since.
Brands that spend money on advertising are entitled to know where and when their messages will appear and what the context will be. This has been a routine demand since the beginning of the modern marketing era. It has always been the case and will remain so for TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, outdoor and so on.
Digital is more complex, of course, but advertisers are still entitled to protect their brands’ reputations by ensuring that ads do not appear next to content that is at odds with what the company stands for or the brand’s own individual purpose.
This is not a question of free speech, it’s a question of media suitability for advertisers.
Advertisers that withdraw or reduce spend on certain digital platforms because of concerns about brand safety are simply protecting their brands and their reputation. Just like you or me, they have the freedom to choose where and when they turn up in public. Every member of the WFA will take their own decisions about what content they feel is appropriate for their brands and where they are happy to invest their marketing budgets.
The task of agreeing any limits on free speech lies with politicians in each and every country around the world. The US definition enshrined in The First Amendment is one. But such definitions equally vary for historical, legal and social reasons all around the world.
GARM has done a great job at defining when content is acceptable for advertisers. Free speech and defining content that’s hateful or incites violence is a job for politicians.
For all the current conjecture about media budgets and Twitter’s business model, advertisers just want to keep their brands safe, that’s simply non-negotiable.