The fears may have started after a half-second cowboy in an Applebee’s spot that played on CNN split screen on the morning of February 24, 2022.
It is hard to say when the perennial problem of brand integrity entered a new, more serious phase. But one incident last year illustrated how difficult it can be for marketers and media buyers when their messages are placed in an inhospitable advertising environment.
It was the morning of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine. Cable news viewership was unusually higher because of the war. CNN could have been cut into a commercial. Or the cable channel could have simply continued its live coverage.
Instead, CNN has switched to a “squeezeback” ad format, which shows its news program in one video box and the ad in another. The CNN format is designed to prevent viewers from switching channels when the network switches to commercials. It is the promise of advertising efficiency by providing greater viewability.
The reaction was immediate. Applebee found herself taking to Twitter for all the wrong reasons, as thousands of horrified viewers immediately posted videos, which featured a dancing cowboy celebrating “a little fried chicken.”
While Applebee’s ad sparked outrage, other brands were flooded with amazing comments on social media as well. Imagine the sounds and sights of suffering Ukrainians in one section of the TV screen while a Sandals Resorts commercial features Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”—which includes the lyrics, “Don’t worry ’bout a thing/Cause every little thing will be alright.”
The uproar quickly died down after Applebee’s and CNN took down the ads, which were removed during the rest of the war reporting. But the marketers’ discontent and anxiety ran deep.
Blame him for continuing political division and social tension. Add to this consumer data privacy issues and the emergence of a freer innovative economy. And don’t dismiss the rancor fueled by Elon Musk’s anarchy — and sometimes brand unfriendly — on Twitter.
If 2022 was the year marketers, agencies, and platforms played to defend brand integrity and appropriateness, 2023 is shaping up to be a time for marketers to attack. After months of downturn in the ad economy, this is going to require some massive sacrifices by those same players.
Are they willing to give up greater advertising efficiency, and even some control, for the possibility of greater security?
What causes brand insecurity?
A report from multi-channel advertising platform Mediaocean found that the increased concern for brand safety is clear and real. In its Outlook 2023 report released in December, the company asked more than 600 decision makers from media providers, advertising agencies and technology companies whether concerns about brand integrity and appropriateness would increase or decrease over the next year. About 40% of respondents surveyed in the fourth quarter said the percentage would go up.
“Marketers are much more educated now,” said David Berkowitz, founder of advertising consulting firm Serial Marketer. More education often leads to more anxiety. But it comes in cycles.”
It is true that buyers are now more educated about what they have to worry about. They know what can happen when they are not able to monitor and vet ad placements. The reason, Berkowitz said, is that technologies have also evolved to disrupt the advertising supply chain.
“However, marketers who’ve been in the business for a couple of decades remember other kinds of brand safety concerns,” he said. “For example, family-friendly brands wanted to prevent their ads from appearing alongside sexually explicit content.”
It’s definitely hard to keep up with. The internet may have been around for the lives of most millennials and all Gen Zers, but it is still a new medium for established brands and agencies. The evolution of online environments has outpaced our ability to understand and manage them.
That’s the thesis of Mark Broderson, a senior partner at McKinsey & Co. and his colleague Adam Brotman, a partner in the consulting’s B2B Internet, Media and Information Services group. In particular, the two point to the rapid acceleration of new media formats such as connected television (CTV) to generate a resurgence in brand integrity talks, Broderson said.
“While the current discussions are fundamentally similar to what happened in 2015-2017, recent conversations symbolize the blurring of lines between linear and nonlinear media,” he told Adweek.
Brotman added that in 2015, brand safety talks focused on non-linear digital media. Today, brand marketers search across all media channels and formats. What’s more, the conversation has evolved from safety to relevance and contextual advertising, the pair said.
“For example, as brands take an increasingly public stance on various social topics, marketers are increasingly prioritizing media that align with the brand’s core values, to ultimately deliver the optimal message through the optimal channel or channels,” Broderson said.
“The most obvious driver for reviving the brand integrity conversation is the wide availability of CTV inventory, particularly in the context of the growing programmatic landscape,” said Brotman.
The two cited a report from eMarketer, which found that 9 out of every 10 digital video dollars will be transacted programmatically in the coming years. CTV fuels this spending.
Broderson said marketers are realizing that it’s no longer just social channels or user-generated content that needs to be monitored.
“While the ongoing importance of influencer marketing remains an essential part of the conversation, CTV’s evolving profiles, paired with the evolving nature of brand awareness, make brand relevance in professionally developed content as essential as brand integrity in social media,” he said. .
There are simply too many channels and marketing needs to meet, said Lou Pascalis, a marketing consultant who has made brand integrity a special cause since he was a senior media executive at Bank of America and during his most recent tenure. MMA Global trade group.
The demand for the marketing leader to manage advertising efficiency — making sure brand messages are placed as broad and deep as possible for the greatest return and lowest cost — goes against keeping those ads away from content that might generate negative attention. Balancing supply possibility and risk is an ongoing battle, and it really does end on an equal footing.
“There are four types [of risk] It is managed below the CEO level, Pascalis said. There are operational risks. Do we have the right controls in place? There are compliance risks. Are we bound by the law? There are personnel risks, and there are external risks. These things always have a little bit of a quirk factor. You will never be 100 percent compatible. If you are 90% compatible, that’s good enough. Fifth, however, is where you start seeing musical chairs at the CEO level. This is a reputational risk.”
Brand integrity is often in the eye of the beholder. But when reputational risk occurs in a public company, the damage shows up in the quarterly revenue numbers. The result is usually displayed instantly in the share price.
Nobody in the media and marketing business wants to create reputational risks for an organization, it’s safe to say. But for many marketers, most of the pressure is on ensuring media is spent efficiently. Managing reputational risk has always been an afterthought—usually when something blows up in the face of the brand.
But Paskalis sees brands taking a more proactive approach to brand safety, simply because the list of threats is growing rapidly. There is the role of artificial intelligence and data leakage.
“Look, ask any CEO,” Pascalis said, “what’s more important to you—maintaining goodwill, reputation, and share price, or having more efficient media spending?” “I guarantee no CEO will say, ‘Oh no, I want more media. I’m very happy to take that risk.’ And so, we’re just now pricing that. In five years from now, that’s going to be the benchmark.” “
What would this rule look like? In addition to closely monitoring their media placements for safety and relevance, brands will have to do better due diligence on partners and spokespeople who sign up. Marketers are all still rattled at how Adidas’ lucrative deal with Kanye West (now known as Ye) turned out to be ruinous, resulting in a $246 million haul after the rising star’s outburst of anti-Semitism.
“Marketers will look at whether the partner reflects their values,” Pascalis said. Second, marketers will ask themselves if they are protecting their customers’ data choices and their customers’ privacy and consent. Third, “Do we have good quality inventory?” Number four, “Is there transparency about their data practices and their machine learning?” Finally, number five on that list. : “Am I getting a good return?” The paradigm and branding priorities are going to flip.”
But to do that, marketing must give up control.
“The fox takes care of the chicken house”
In Paskalis’ view, marketers can’t be expected to define those new priorities. The temptation to maximize return on advertising spending is too great. He suggested that the responsibility for creating the “standards checklist” be placed outside the marketing unit.
The Safety Standards and Values function is similar to the purchasing departments that were set up to control marketing expenditures by big brands 20 years ago.
“It’s a fox taking care of a henhouse issue,” Pascalis said. “Someone has to set the standards for me just as they do for every other aspect of the business that I need to stick to. The big Fortune 500 companies have purchasing jobs, which they hate, but they do offer something for us to use as media buyers.”
Brand safety kit
In the same way that purchasing and governance policies provide clarity between brands and media buyers, the standards function can do the same.
“It doesn’t mean you can’t deal with people who may have different values than yours,” Pascalis said. “That’s not the point. You should have a map and say, ‘Look, here are the risks we took.'”
MacKenzie Broderson also advised brands to create a formal process for managing brand integrity and risk. The toolkit may fit the bill marketers need. But it requires definition, promotion and implementation.
“The first step is for brands to set standards for safety and convenience,” Broderson said. “These standards should be based on core safety standards to include brand appropriateness. Brands must then standardize with media partners and technology vendors to ensure transparency around expectations.”
He noted that brand safety technologies are not new, but to ensure brand suitability guidelines are adhered to, an operating model that includes internal stakeholders and agency partners will be critical to operations along with technology.
“There are some pretty obvious controls to be part of the brand’s toolkit,” said Serial Marketer’s Berkowitz. “But brands also need to define their value to themselves. There are sell-side and buy-side verification technologies, for example. And there are premium, brand-safe media networks that can ensure ads are placed alongside safe content and seen by real humans. It can This often leads to higher returns, but there are usually additional costs involved – including the costs of training their teams and agencies.”
Ultimately, Berkowitz said, the biggest question any brand or buyer should ask is: What is brand integrity worth to us?