Tragedy of the Commons

Posted by Jeremy Spitzberg • Oct 21, 2019 9:50:28 PM

What is the moral responsibility of the Brand Safety Officer?

That's the question raised by Stevan Randjelovic, GroupM's EMEA brand safety manager, in a new editorial, "Brand safety is a moral imperative".

Randjelovic establishes the dangers of a brand safety crisis, much as we did in our own study of the risks of a consumer backlash against brand safety issues.

In fact, research from Brands Taking Stands 2019 found that 66% of younger consumers say that a brand’s association with a social cause or platform positively impacts their overall impression of a brand.
Additionally, research from the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report, ‘Brands and Social Media’, found that 47% of respondents believe that points of view which appear near a brand’s advertising are an indication of that brand’s values. Forty-eight percent said it’s a brand’s own fault if its advertising appears next to hate speech, violent or sexually inappropriate content.

He even comes back to the point later in the piece:

According to the latest research from Harris Poll and Double Verify, nearly 90% of consumers feel that brands bear responsibility for ensuring their ads run beside content that is safe.

However, what sets this article apart from the bulk of the writing on brand safety, is that Randjelovic steps back from the harm that can be done to brands and looks at the harms to society funded by digital advertising.

There are consequences such as funding an illegal network or having ads placed in non-viewable environments. But, perhaps the most important consideration for a marketer is: what are the social consequences for how I advertise, and does it fit my brand’s purpose?

It is hard to image a brand purpose aligned with stolen content or wasting money on ads no one sees, but the issue can be framed in starker terms. Are you rewarding the criminals who stole work from it's authors and rights-holders? Is your company paying to misinform voters, putting democracy at risk? Does your ad budget end up in the pockets of white supremacists or terrorist sympathizers?

Yes, a brand may suffer a reputational crisis as a result of a brand safety failure, but in the aggregate, digital advertising without brand safety protocols is a threat to society. As Randjelovic puts it:

If we want to be a trusted industry, then increasingly we will have to make moral decisions when it comes to advertising and always consider the consequences for public safety.

It's not hyperbolic to say that these are the stakes for which we're playing.


Topics: Brand Safety, Brand Safety Officers, Ad Adjacency, Piracy, Disinformation