The Brand Safety Institute (BSI) is a newly launched initiative that offers certified training to advertising executives so that they can minimize brand risks while capitalizing opportunities. To mark its launch, the Institute prepared a white paper in partnership with the Trustworthy Accountability Group that outlines the challenges brands face in digital advertising while offering some tips on achieving “brand suitability,” which describes the marketer’s desired balance between content adjacency (brand safety) and viewability (ROI).

One of the problems with discussing brand safety is that it’s both a hot button and broad topic. As the report states, the term has come to describe everything from ad fraud to user experiences and appropriate content adjacency—the digital environments where ads can be found. While many use the term to describe the protection of a marketer’s brands, the report states that publishers have also said that inadequate controls in the advertising supply chain put their brands at risk too. At the same time, the broad definition has caused confusion among supply chain parties, some of which have shifted significant resources to ensure a sense of transparency.

To help clarify the topic the report interviewed over 20 company executives who work with the digital advertising supply chain to establish a more narrow definition of brand safety. In doing so, it allowed the report to discover newly used descriptions, isolate execution issues and understand how various companies see their responsibility with regards to the marketer’s brand safety.

The report established the following definition: “The term ‘Brand Safety’ describes the controls that companies in the digital advertising supply chain employ to protect brands against negative impacts to the brand’s consumer reputation associated with specific types of content, criminal activity, and/or related loss of return on investment.”

In creating the definition, several phrases were frequently used by respondents in association with brand safety. The most common were “association with criminal activity,” “negative press,” and “ad placement analysis.”

However, the report admits that some industry terms are subjective. For example, placing a brand adjacent to violent content may be viewed negatively by consumers, depending on the context. But at the same time, marketers understand that this kind of positioning may lead to better conversion results.

BSI advises having brand suitability standards, defined by the marketer’s tolerance of different content types, audience demographics and viewability percentages. But the challenge to implementing that kind of standard is that “execution is heavy on tools, light on understanding and knowledge.”

The paper makes two recommendations to help overcome brand safety challenges, which include appointing brand safety officers and pursuing safer targeting. Given how many of the challenges are based on risk tolerance, marketers should charge an individual with the task of pursuing quality control, preferably someone who is well educated on the topic.

As for safer targeting, the report refers to how the Media Ratings Council’s addendum to the 2012 Ad Verification Guidelines as a source of technical guidance, stating, “This at a minimum will start to standardize the tools used by practitioners of media buying.”

After having established a definition for brand safety in this survey, BSI will continue to co-publish future white papers that will focus on understanding brand safety practices across various areas of the digital advertising supply chain.