Brands, Safety, and Responsibility

Posted by Brand Safety Institute • Jun 26, 2020 6:30:06 PM

Yesterday, IPG Mediabrands released their "10 Media Responsibility Principles (MRP) as part of a larger effort to balance brand safety and brand responsibility in advertising." They define those latter terms as:

While “Brand Safety” protects the brand, “Brand Responsibility” protects the communities that a brand serves, weighing the societal impact of the content, the publishers and services, and the platforms being funded by advertising

This is natural extension of the conversations that we as an industry - and indeed, as a culture - are having in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in the wake of George Floyd's murder by the police. As we have documented on this blog, overbroad and outdated keyword block lists may keep a brand "safe" in the narrowest sense of the word, but it may do more harm than good. Publishers can't monetize interest and eyeballs on the topics of the day - topics that may not directly reflect on an advertiser - and brands can't reach the engaged audience that they crave. 

In this sense, brand safety and brand responsibility are in tension with each other. That's what Joshua Lowcock, Chief Digital Officer, UM and Global Brand Safety Officer, IPG Mediabrands (and Brand Safety Institute Advisory Board member) means when he says that these principles “serve as an important check and balance in helping marketers and their agencies make better decisions on where to invest media and hold partners accountable.”

However, in the larger picture, the two impulses for safety and responsibility are symbiotic friends. There is no responsibility without the base-line assurances of safety, and that safety can't be assured without responsible action from brands (and everyone else in the digital advertising supply chain.

It's worth quoting the principles in full, taken here from the Business Wire piece announcing them.

IPG Mediabrands’ 10 Media Responsibility Principles:


Seek out media partners that foster balanced, constructive discourse and respectful civil commentary. Avoid and eliminate working with media partners or platforms that create hostile conversation environments. This includes holding partners accountable if individuals, content or programming consistently confronts an individual or group of individuals based on their religion, race or sexual orientation.


Prioritize partners that protect people from harm. This includes requiring partners to take active steps to prevent predatory behavior against an individual or group of individuals. Require partners to flag, limit or remove content that would mislead people as to their rights or how to access public services.


Media partners need to demonstrate that they celebrate all forms of diversity, including all genders, multicultural backgrounds, ages, sexual orientations, people with disabilities, all socio-economic groups, and faiths. That when advertising is delivered, there is conscious effort made to ensure that the ads are delivered against an audience that is representative of the diversity in the population and non-discriminatory.


That media partners and advertisers collect and use data in ways that are ethical, accountable and fair. That data is collected and used in way that complies with all applicable regulations and industry codes. That rules exist so that data is not used in advertising in a way that would inadvertently or unintentionally discriminate against an individual or group of individuals or their ability to access employment, housing, or other products and services.


Media partners and advertisers have a shared responsibility to ensure that both regulatory and industry codes are consistently applied for protecting the welfare of children. That partners are required to demonstrate that they have the appropriate controls in place to protect children and, as necessary, age gate the delivery of advertising where necessary.


Brands should not fund hate speech or extremist content. Avoid advertising with media outlets that fuel hatred on the grounds of race, religion, nationality, migration status, sexuality, gender or gender identity, disability or any other group characteristic. This includes not advertising on content, services, or platforms where there is speech that attempts to dehumanize a person or group of people or that promotes or features content that would incite violence or discrimination.


That media investment will be directed to partners that ensure people receive quality, factual information that enables them to make well-informed decisions and not fund partners or content that spread misinformation. Advertising should not fund misinformation or disinformation. Platforms will fact check information published by high-profile and/or high reach accounts; ensure that factual information from reputable sources is published alongside false claims from said accounts; and put systems in place to stop amplification of false information. Priority areas include topics around healthcare and the environment.


That any media partner consistently apply their own terms of use policy. That partners in a common category or vertical align on a common policy standard that outlines the expectations of those on the platforms, whether they be end-users, creators, or hosts, and that the policies be transparently enforced regardless of role, title, position, or office.


That there be supply chain transparency so that advertisers know when and where they are advertising, whether this be a publisher, platform, program, or page. So that advertisers can make informed decisions that will enable compliance with these overarching principles.


That each party in the advertising supply chain, Advertisers, Agencies, and Publishers/Platforms will hold themselves individually accountable for adhering to these principles. That we collectively recognize that revenue from advertising is a privilege and not a right, and that there must be an open and honest dialogue with partners who fail to be accountable to these principles.

There's a lot to like here. Indeed, many of these points are the standards that shape our 10-course Brand Safety Officer certification. The principles are the first step, and enforcement, transparency and accountability (nos 8, 9, & 10) need to be built into the system. But [waving hands wildly] all of this requires dedicated, trained, and empowered staff across the industry roles, and up and down every company's org chart. It is the BSO who will implement these principles and turn them into a company's standard operating procedure; who will be responsible to document and measure a company's efforts in these areas; and it is the BSO who will lead the fight for continual improvement within their organization. 

As mentioned at the top, these principles aren't coming from nowhere, and they're not being developed in a vacuum. To add a broader context to the discussion, here's a curated sample of topics and approaches from companies who are dealing with these very issues in real time.






Clearly these issues are larger than directing a company's ad spend. All levels and facets of a company (and again, our society) are reevaluating what were too recently unexamined defaults. But when companies are being challenged to "put their money where their mouths are" on these issues, there are few more public demonstrations than their advertising decisions. Just look at the "Stop Hate for Profit" campaign that is gaining steam among brands and agencies. It is a very high-profile example of companies advancing the principles IPG has summarized.

As buzzwords collide, brand safety becomes an extension, or manifestation, of corporate social responsibility, and these issues become more central to the story a brand tells about itself. We see the role of the Brand Safety Officer expanding, and becoming more central to shaping and protecting the story a brand tells about itself. As Joshua Lowcock said at the recent 614 Group Brand Safety Summit:

It's our responsibility at the Brand Safety Institute to make sure they're prepared for the challenge.

Topics: Brand Safety, Brand Safety Officers, Transparency, Block lists, Joshua Lowcock, Social Responsibility, Media Principles, Role of the Brand Safety Officer