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Brand safety is defined as the strategy put into place to help ensure that online advertisements or associations do not appear on or in websites, videos or articles that may conflict with the brand’s image, mission or goals. The issue has become a daily talking point, with many companies finding their ads served online alongside violent, graphics and offensive content.

The biggest advertisers have crafted guidance from the top to maintain trust in their iconic brands. Here we look at 10 of the biggest advertisers making brand safety core to their vision and mission.

1. Mars

The maker of products including Whiskas, Skittles, and Snickers, sets out clear no-go areas for its online ads. Mars, which spends $745 million each year on paid media in the US alone, sets out a no-nonsense approach to ensure its brands are not depicted or “placed in programs or media…including ethnic, racial, religious or sexual stereotyping or ridicule; depictions of gratuitous or excessive violence, brutality, cruelty or suffering to people or animals; explicit sexual behavior or inappropriate sexual suggestiveness or innuendo.”

The company points out that it is not averse to ads placed next to hard news, or humor, and “the media can perform a constructive societal role which should be encouraged.” However, it stresses that it will not tolerate placing of ads in contexts where “the handling of controversial subjects becomes inflammatory, unbalanced or not factual.”

2. Unilever

In the most famous assertion of brand safety to date, Unilever announced a new policy on brand safety and has further unveiled a new initiative called ‘Unilever Trusted Publishers’ so the business can gain “more control and greater visibility” over where its ads are placed.

The company cites a speech from its Chief Marketing Officer Keith Weed, in which he told fellow marketing leaders that “consumers don’t care about third party verification. They do care about fraudulent practice, fake news, and Russians influencing the US election. They don’t care about good value for advertisers. But they do care when they see their brands being placed next to ads funding terror or exploiting children.”

3. Coca Cola

Setting out its responsible marketing policy, Coca-Cola says it cannot place any of its marketing in any media “which directly targets children under 12, including television shows, print media, websites, social media, movies, and SMS/email marketing.” The drinks manufacturer reports that in 2016 & 2017, a specially-commissioned analysis by consultants Accenture found this commitment was met in child-directed media 95 percent of the time.

4. Bayer

Pharmaceutical giant, Bayer AG, outlines its brand safety mission in the Bayer Responsible Marketing and Sales policy, underlying the need for “accurate and scientifically substantiated communication” given the brand’s focus on “health and nutrition”.

Bayer warns that it will act quickly to address any infringements including “corrective actions where required” and will provide “transparent reporting on reassessments.”

5. Vodafone

The British telecommunications giant has been among the most explicit in putting brand safety front and center of its vision. Its global rules seek to prevent ads appearing within outlets focused on “creating and sharing hate speech and fake news”. The company defines these categories as content “deliberately intended to degrade women or vulnerable minorities (hate speech); or presented as fact-based news (as opposed to satire or opinion) that has no credible primary source (or relies on fraudulent attribution to a primary source) with what a reasonable person would conclude is the deliberate intention to mislead (fake news).”

6. L’Oréal

For every one its products, the world’s biggest cosmetics company does an average 100 quality controls to guarantee quality, safety and and reliability, before they hit the shelves. It is therefor no surprise it is equally strict on the safety and reliability of its $8.6 billion digital advertising strategy. Embedded within its 40-page Code of Ethics, L’Oréal says a core part of its identity is to “ensure that all advertising and promotional material is based on proven performance and relevant scientific data obtained during evaluations, consumer or laboratory studies carried out in accordance with our industry’s best practices”. In common with many science-first companies, L’Oréal has been forced to be vigilant with a rise of fake medical news, and keeping online ads far away from such pockets of misinformation.

7. Colgate-Palmolive

Colgate-Palmolive’s advertising mission emphasizes that it is creating “more than a product image.” Instead, their branding and advertising is central to the company’s global mission and “mirrors Colgate’s reputation for reliability, dependability, and trustworthiness.”

The company “charges its advertising agencies and their media buying services with the responsibility of pre-screening any questionable media content or context.”

8. AB InBev

The world’s largest brewer like many in its space has set itself the responsibility of serving their ads (just like their drinks) appropriately. “Commercial communication will only be placed in print, radio, television or on any form of digital media where at least 70% of the audience is reasonably expected to be of legal drinking age or older”, the company states. Elsewhere, Lucas Herscovici, AB InBev’s global marketing Vice President of consumer connections, insights and innovation, says renewed focus on tech investment can alleviate concerns around online brand safety.

9. Kellogg’s

Kellogg’s online marketing mission points out the unique responsibility the cereal-maker has “to continue our heritage of ethical business practices”. The family-focused company says it will only place our advertising in an environment that reflects the positive image of our brands. The company adds that it will not tolerate being placed next to content that is “not consistent with our product or corporate image.”

10. Cisco

Laying out her company’s guidelines, Karen Walker, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Cisco says the company prides itself on “our strong, clear and inclusive brand values.”

The IT and networking giant is putting brand safety top of its agenda. Walker adds: “Cisco has adopted the most rigorous industry standards to help ensure our online advertising does not accidentally end up in the wrong place. We are working closely with all of our media partners to ensure that Cisco’s online advertising meets our stringent standards.” The company has even set up a dedicated email address for anyone who spots their brand in compromising positions.

This post first appeared on the CHEQ blog 

Jonathan Marciano

Jonathan Marciano


Jonathan Marciano is the director of communications at CHEQ.