Brand safety has been the hot topic on marketers' lips over the last 18 months amid reoccurring mishaps from platforms like Google and Facebook around targeting, viewability and ad misplacement. Not so long ago, brands like Airbnb and Tesco touted the position of the chief media officer as one that could help alleviate some of the industry’s ills, but now it appears that weight of expectation may shift to a newly-coined role, the brand safety officer.
The question is, could a brand safety officer (BSO) more effectively police advertisers’ media buys and protect their reputation? Bank of America thinks so.
Speaking earlier this month at Mobile World Congress (MWC), the institution’s senior vice-president, Lou Paskalis, revealed it had hired a brand safety officer to manage its reputation, but stopped short of naming the candidate.
While this type of hire might be the right fit for a financial institution for which trust is its lifeblood, the jury is out on whether other chief marketing officers will follow suit.
Like putting aftersun on sunburn?
For Bank of America’s Paskalis, hiring a brand safety officer will give the brand a “chance to clear up its house,” and get its finance department off his back.
However, as much a brand safety officer could alleviate concerns held by brands in the FTSE 100, for Fergus Hay, partner and chief executive at independent creative agency Leagas Delaney, making this kind of hire is like putting aftersun on sunburn.
Delaney argued in The Drum that the industry should instead move to tackle the problem at the root, saying that brand safety challenges were “symptomatic of a network model that has put its own revenue growth ahead of its client’s best interests”.
He added: "The debate has to centre on the accountability of the publishers and platforms, and the incentivised behaviour of the media buying agencies."
Admittedly, the brand safety debate shows no signs of slowing down. In the last year alone, some of YouTube's most viewed creators like PewDiePie and Logan Paul have faced demonetisation following the retrospective publication of Nazi jokes and suicide victim footage.
Meanwhile, groups like Sleeping Giants and Stop Funding Hate have shone a spotlight on brands spending their budgets with right-wing leaning publishers, asking advertisers like Amazon to adhere to values they profess to have. Outwith ad misplacement, brands have risked their own reputations with “tone deaf” ads and stunts – like Pepsi’s Black Lives Matter-inspired protest ad and more recently Brewdog’s Pink IPA.
How brands manage consumer data, or how they act after concealing a massive database leak like Uber's, has also come under intense scrutiny of late. An issue as simple as a leak or a glitch can have far reaching consequences when it comes to reputation – as British Airways' tumble off the recent Superbrands list has shown.
In light of these incidents, brands have had to become hyper-alert of not only their messaging, but their inventory is actually being delivered.
Should it just be one person's job?
Hay argued the traditional marketing director role is one which should "ultimately be responsible for the health and integrity of the brands under their management".
By the same token, he recognised that with marketing having become an "unruly reckless beast exposing brands to damaging contextual placements that have a negative impact on brand integrity," that there will always be demand for brand safety experts, regardless of title.
Elsewhere, David Wheldon, chief marketing officer of RBS, told The Drum that he believes brand safety isn't just one person's job.
"I want everybody in my team to think about brand safety," he said, cautioning that by putting the responsibility in the hands of one person, other marketers "may think they don't have to worry about it."
Wheldon, who is also president of the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), Wheldon said that data from members uncovered that actually it is the role of chief digital, or media, officer that's on the rise.
"Everything is being digitised. Banking is changing exponentially, and customers' experience of our app shows that - but I think there's a confusion [among brands] between digital advertising and communication and the digitisation of all services."
He continued that in his view digital chiefs should be focused on digitising the brand, rather than handling digital advertising.
Platforms and policing
While for brands like Bank of America it is all well and good to employ a brand safety officer to ensure media buys service the brand, there is also a wider debate to be had about the role of supply side platforms (SSPs).
Facebook and Google addressed UK marketers at separate events last week, detailing how they are cleaning up their own backyards, but the concerns expressed by marketers at the top like Unilever's Keith Weed and Marc Pritchard of P&G remain.
Fergus Hay, partner and chief executive of independent creative agency Leagas Delaney argued in The Drum that brand safety issues are “symptomatic of a network model that has put its own revenue growth ahead of its client’s best interests”.
For his part, Leagas Delaney's Hay mused that if brands have to hire executives to police Facebook, Google, and soon even Amazon, then premium fees demanded by the platforms may fall.
On the flip side, Phil Smith, director general of The Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (Isba) said this debate has reared its head because marketers are not close enough to where their ads were going. They must take more accountability for media buying decisions, he said.
To this end, Smith said Isba has encouraged members to vet the content beforehand, and monitor it and user comments while the ad is running. This approach seems tailored to Facebook and Google.
He said that Isba has helped YouTube develop manual vetting of preferred content and raised the threshold for channel monetisation - a move which irked the creator community but will have eased the concern of advertisers for the moment. He underlined that Isba is pushing for the creation of third party verification partners and even third party pre-vetting on the platform.
Despite an increased desire for safer brand environments, Smith noted that he has not witnessed a spike in demand for the brand safety officer among members. Instead, he said brands should be ensuring all teams are aware of the issues and members are taking active roles in tackling and improving brand safety.
Kathleen Saxton, founder of executive recruitment company the Lighthouse Company hit home that the brand safety officer is not one the company has headhunted yet, underlining the brand safety officer's current ubiquity.
Martin Broad, head of communications Insight at media auditing and analytics firm Ebiquity does not judge Bank of America’s “impulse” to hire specially in the brand safety role, adding that it was a “perfectly sensible” move.
However, Broad urged brands, with or without a brand safety officer, to do their homework and and run risk assessments on the the brand safety threats facing them by whitelisting trusted sites and partners, or leaning on premium inventory.
He added: “There are other alternatives to creating such a role, such as making brand safety management a more pressing part of the chief marketing role or by creating a dedicated brand safety team within the marketing team.”
Deflecting Wheldon of RBS' concerns that the brand safety officer could disincentivise brand safety efforts in a company, Broad stated that it would be the responsibility of this exec to “create a framework or set of processes that encourage both awareness of and adherence to brand safety by all team members”.
Broad concluded: “The key to success in areas of safety will be closer collaboration between advertisers and brands – again, having someone within the brand acting as a dedicated representative of the issue could help."