BSI CEO Neal Thurman in the press on X, Adjacency, and Risk Profiles

Posted by Brand Safety Institute • Nov 22, 2023 4:00:34 PM

The Drum has a new article on Elon Musk's suit against Media Matters for the watchdog's claims that "X sometimes run alongside hateful posts including antisemitic and white nationalist content".

The Brand Safety Institute's CEO, Neal Thurman, was quoted several times in the piece. He was asked to weigh in on the suit itself:

X’s battle against Media Matters isn’t one that media industry leaders believe he’s likely to win. “I don't think there's any [legal] basis [for X’s charges] unless there is some absolute corruption in what Media Matters has done, which I don't have any reason to think that there is. I can't see where he would actually win,” says Neal Thurman, co-founder and chief executive of research and accreditation organization the Brand Safety Institute.

Thurman acknowledges that he’s not a legal expert, but says, “It doesn’t seem like there’s a [legal] basis [to win damages over] a nonprofit saying, ‘Hey, we have a concern,’ and businesses making independent business decisions based on that.”

In fact, the Daily Dot has reporting that "users on X tried to see if they would find advertisements when they searched for problematic terms like #HeilHitler."

“It took me about 30 seconds to find X placing advertisements for @TheAthletic, @ShopTemu, @ActionNetworkHQ, and @Visit_NJ alongside a search for ‘killjews,'” he said. “This place is broken and advertisers should be worried.” —@Avi_Bueno

More importantly for BSI's mission, Thurman was able to talk in a little more detail about the risks inherent in advertising alongside user-generated content, and how brands need to approach these platforms:

Of course, there’s inherent risk in buying media in any environment with user-generated content. And there are at least two important levels of risk to assess, according to the Brand Safety Institute’s Thurman: “direct adjacency” – the actual placement of ads next to other kinds of content; and “property adjacency” – how the platform at large is moderating content and protecting brands’ interests. These are separate but related considerations for marketers on platforms like X.

For many marketers, Thurman says, the broader concerns of property adjacency may be enough to inspire a pause in ad spend – regardless of whether the brand has been directly affected at the ad unit level.

At base, Thurman says, brands need to determine how much risk they’re willing to take on. “What you have to figure out as a brand is, are you comfortable that the platforms you're doing work with are making its best efforts to moderate [content] so that you're comfortable putting your brand next to theirs?”

You can read the full article at The Drum.

UPDATE, Dec 3: Thurman was just quoted in the Wall Street Journal after Elon Musk doubled-down on his controversial and confrontational approach to advertisers at the New York Times’s DealBook Summit:

Musk’s comments seem at odds with his stated commitment to free speech, said Neal Thurman, co-founder of the nonprofit industry group Brand Safety Institute. 

“He appears to be addressing the situation as if there is a presumption that advertisers should be spending on X. As if they have an obligation to fund it through their ad budgets,” Thurman said. “His indignant response to his customers voting with their wallets in response to his approach is ironic from someone who claims to be a free speech, free market libertarian. This is what free markets do.”


Topics: Ad Adjacency, Elon Musk, Twitter, In the News, ad placement, X