Brand Safety

agent_orange The besieged swath of the internet that facilitates democratic communication has forced corporate marketers to start speaking more openly about something that’s always been at the heart of big businesses’ media sponsorship: brand safety.

Here is one insider’s explanation of brand safety:

With the advent of contextual display advertising [on the internet], a host of new advertising opportunities opened up for marketers across every industry. Whether contextualization is done at the site level (i.e. is about sports) or at the page level (i.e. automotive content on, the ability to target ads around content—in addition to demographic and behavioral profiles—is pretty powerful stuff. But with these big opportunities comes an equal amount of risk. Imagine an automotive ad next to a news story about a horrific car crash or an ad for a vacation package next to tsunami news coverage of the same destination. We see it in contextual search as well as display. It’s enough to make any brand marketer anxious about any sort of online advertising.

A “brand-safe” environment, of course, is one in which the placer of the advertisement doesn’t have to worry about such horrific outcomes.

Firms like LucidMedia now provide their corporate clients the following services:

RESTON, Va.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–LucidMedia, a leading online advertising demand-side platform (DSP), today announced that it has deployed the industry’s first preemptive brand safety capabilities, enabling advertisers and agencies to detect and anticipate inappropriate content on a real-time basis and in advance of purchasing media for display advertising campaigns. The preemptive brand protection capabilities have been proven throughout a decade of research and development with the company’s patented ClickSense contextual advertising technology.

“Preemptive protection for brand advertisers is hard to do, but we believe it’s absolutely critical for advertisers and agencies to have this capability, especially for traditional big brands to more fully trust and embrace online advertising while increasing efficiency.”

LucidMedia’s preemptive brand protection capabilities differ significantly from “traditional” post-campaign brand safety analysis by using the company’s patented technology to pre-screen online advertising inventory. This involves tens of thousands of designated categories for detecting impression content with potentially objectionable concepts. Each advertiser can set criteria, or sensitivity levels, around specific categories ranging from adult entertainment to alcohol, drugs, war, hate, profanity and thousands of others. LucidMedia’s technology uses proprietary content markers to detect inappropriate impressions in advance that an advertiser may want to block partially or across the board based on their sensitivity levels and specific needs. Using LucidMedia DSP, agencies and advertisers can very quickly determine if a potential page is safe based on the advertisers’ criteria and sensitivity levels.

As they work to secure ad environments, the new brand safety firms think in terms not just of preemption, but also sanitization:

Real brand safety, meaning a demonstrably safe environment for brand advertisers to promote their message online, comes from sanitizing the ad space before the ad is served. Of course pre-impression analysis for relevance, performance and safety is very difficult to do so it’s the least prevalent form out there. Evaluating billions of impressions a day for relevance takes a robust platform and deep integration with all of the real-time bid aggregation points. But it pays huge dividends in both safety and efficiency by guaranteeing quality impressions and eliminating the need for pass-backs. With truly preemptive brand safety you only buy what is safe with no waste in the equation.

All this, of course, has always been a central part of corporate media sponsorship. Yet, prior to the opening of the democratic band of the internet, its discussion was mostly confined to closed-door interpersonal interactions between sponsors and broadcasters.

Now, the heightened “risk” embodied in the existence of a realm of unrestricted, non-commercial media communication compels big business marketers to tip their hand more publicly than before about the pre-conditions for sponsorships and ad placement.

It isn’t hard to reckon the impact on the freedom and quality of information of the long and continuing history of overclass efforts at preemptive brand safety and media sanitization.

Junk Mail on Steroids

Big business marketing and advertising are much more Pavlovian and much less magical and postmodern than most critics have claimed.

If you doubt this, consider how television advertising, the endeavor that funds and delimits almost all the program “content” on US television, actually functions. Here is long-time marketing consultant Erwin Ephron describing it:

For example, a shampoo brand buys daytime TV at $10.00 for a thousand 30-second exposures.

Since each incremental unit of shampoo sold makes a $2.00 contribution to profit (i.e. wholesale price minus marginal cost), then fewer than five incremental sales can cover the cost of the advertising.

And also the cost of talking to 994 other potential customers who may be in the market next week!

Micro-marketers who argue that exposures not resulting in a sale are wasted, are as wrong-headed as people who argue that advertising shouldn’t be expected to sell at all. Some exposures sell, but all exposures build broad market awareness, shift attitudes and help create the brand value, which is the foundation for the next sale. These are the hard and soft effects of TV advertising.

The economics of network television for a super-upscale brand like Mercedes are even more remarkable. For Mercedes, one incremental sale can pay the costs of network messages to a million men and women.

True, most of them will never buy the car, but those messages are not wasted, either. They help to create the broad-market perception that Mercedes is special, which makes owning a Mercedes one so attractive to the small group of consumers who have the money.

For super-upscale products, value to the purchaser is often in the eye of all those millions of non-purchasers.

In other words, considered from the point of view of its sponsors, television is junk mail on steroids.

And we’ve long since surrendered our civil society to this inherently discombobulating and addictive force.

This great surrender, of course, remains completely “off the table” of mainstream politics and media coverage, despite its extreme threat to us, our democracy, and the world our rampaging sponsoring class is still bullying.