What You Need to Know about Paid Ads and Brand Safety

Recently, Google—YouTube and Google Ads, in particular—have come under fire because of poor ad placement. Don’t be confused—the term “ad placement” is not about the location of the ad on the screen. It’s about the what content the ad is placed next to, and that could be content that threatens the credibility or safety of your brand.


Google’s poor ad placement is creating an unsafe brand environment for many businesses, and big brands like AT&T, Disney and Nestle are yanking their ad dollars from Google as a result. If corporate giants like these are abandoning YouTube and Google Ads, does that mean your business should, too? Here’s a look at the present and future state of brand safety on some of the biggest advertising platforms.

The Now: Brand Safety at Risk

The most recent brand safety concerns on YouTube arise from recent observations that Disney and Nestle, kid- and family-friendly brands, were placed next to video content that via comments was being promoted among users with illicit agendas (i.e. agendas that exploit minors). In other words, the content became associated with obscenity, which created an advertising environment that jeopardized the kid-/family-friendly reputations Nestle and Disney have invested so much in creating.

This particular brand safety snafu is not the first; it’s actually one of many, which is why so many marketing professionals and brand managers are reporting higher levels of concern over brand-safe environments now than a year ago.

The problem underlying unsafe brand environments is underdeveloped AI. The ad algorithms Google is using on its platforms are just not sophisticated or robust enough to factor in all elements of the display environment—main content, intent of users seeking such content, comments, etc.—in order to ensure ads are placed next to appropriate relevant content.

The Future: How Google Intends to Deliver Better Brand Safety

Obviously, Google cannot afford to lose billions of dollars in ad revenue and keep its #1 position among competitors in the search and video content delivery space. Its plan to ensure brand safety hinges on deep learning—the implementation of algorithms that are able to learn and adjust in real time to the diverse and dynamic advertising environment.

The technology is already available—it’s what’s driving (pun intended) Tesla’s self-driving cars and allowing Google translate to continuously improve its accuracy. The technology is also already effectively being used by Amazon, considered the champion of brand-safe advertising and Google’s primary competitor in the online advertising arena.

Is Your Brand Safe on Google?

Google’s algorithm cannot currently assure brand safety, but the technology is there to improve the quality of the ad environment. So, what should you do?

If you are already advertising on YouTube and/or using Google Ads, pay more careful attention to your metrics. The nature of your business and the keywords being used by Google’s algorithm to place your ad may be working well enough to keep your ads visible next to safe content.

But, if you see plummeting ad performance, a surge of spam comments on your blogs or website or some type of backlash from consumers, inappropriate ad placement could be to blame. In the event that you have become a victim of advertising in an unsafe brand environment, it may be advisable to suspend ads on the platform and notify the platform administrator.

If you are not already advertising on YouTube and/or using Google Ads, consult with your online marketing professionals at SonicSEO.com for tips and advice on how to structure an ad campaign that could help you avoid poor ad placement while not missing out on the lucrative possibilities of ads run on the internet’s most-visited platforms.