In the modern media landscape, controversy lurks around every corner. From websites spreading misinformation to influencers making polarizing statements on touchy subjects, it seems like every week brings new boycotts and backlash.

You might think your brand is disconnected from the drama, but studies show that consumers hold brands accountable for the content where they advertise. The more casual relationship between influencers and their audiences means some elements will always be up to the talent. The hard truth is that brands need to carefully consider brand safety and suitability when putting together an advertising campaign—both in the planning stage and once the campaign is running.

Here are some things to consider when it comes to brand safety, as well as what Ad Results Media does to keep your brand in safe hands.

What is brand safety and why is it important?

Brand safety ensures a brand’s ad doesn’t get served within content that doesn't align with its core values. Similarly, brand suitability is finding content that matches a brand's values and identity. Brand safety and suitability should be a concern everywhere you advertise, from radio and display ads to television and podcasts. We’ve all heard about brands getting boycotted for their association with controversial content or creators, but it’s not just a big public outcry that can affect your brand’s success. Any association with content that offends consumers can affect their view of your business. And a bad reputation can be hard to shake.

The key goal of brand safety is to minimize risk of damaging your image. But some brands will naturally be more risk-tolerant than others, so brand safety isn’t one-size-fits-all. Being brand safe means avoiding content that doesn’t speak to your target audience or has conflicting values. Common brand suitability flags include hate speech, terrorism, misinformation, violence, drugs and alcohol, obscenity, adult content, and polarizing political takes.

If you need more convincing that where you advertise matters as much as what you advertise, consider this: according to an IAS study, 72% of consumers hold brands accountable for the content surrounding their ads, and 71% would view a brand less favorably who advertises near inappropriate content. 51% even consider themselves likely to stop using a product altogether. Those are significant numbers.

The lesson is clear: in a large media campaign, one wrong choice can negatively impact your brand image.

Brand safety in audio and podcasts

Brand safety doesn’t have a set-it-and-forget-it solution. That’s why it’s important to have a plan customized not only to your brand’s values, but to the media where your ads are running. For an audio campaign, there are extra factors to consider. And since U.S. podcast advertising revenue is expected to exceed $4 billion in 2024, more brands will need to carefully consider brand suitability in audio.

On a basic level, genre, target audience, and your brand’s voice and mission should all be taken into consideration for brand safety. Being talent-driven content that isn’t censored, podcasts add the extra layer of a host personality who can talk about any topic or opinion they want. Controversial topics and profanity are common in podcasts, so vigilance is key for brand safety concerns.

But while listeners still associate the brand with the content in podcasting, the more personal relationship they have with their favorite podcast hosts makes brand safety considerations unique. Listeners actively choose the podcasts they listen to (and the ones they avoid), so they typically know what to expect when it comes to content. If a show doesn’t align with a listener’s values, they will simply move on to one that does.

So it’s much more rare for podcast listeners to be shocked by the content of a show they already know and love, but there are always exceptions. According to a study by Sounds Profitable:

“With the exception of racist material (and to a lesser degree, sexism or ridiculing religion), podcast listeners 18-54 are relatively tolerant of many categories of potentially unsettling content – indeed, many seek it out.”

Podcasts are largely personality-driven. As a general rule, host safety is more important than the content of any given episode. But it’s still important to keep an eye out for potential conflicts and controversies.

The ARM brand safety approach

Combining the expertise of Ad Results Media’s Media Planning team with careful monitoring by our Audio Insights team, we’re able to take both a proactive and reactive approach to brand safety.

Our planners take show content, genre, audience, and host personalities into account when creating a custom media plan to avoid putting our clients in sticky situations to begin with. Additionally, ARM’s Audio Insights team vets new shows by listening to episode content, diving into the talent’s social media histories, and researching any potential controversies they’ve been involved in. All of this information gets compiled into a detailed list of potential brand safety issues that can be referenced by media planners and account strategists.

But planning ahead is only half the battle.

The Audio Insights team uses tools to actively monitor brand safety issues that get flagged automatically each week. Team members manually review potential concerns to determine if action needs to be taken. If there does appear to be a safety concern, the team investigates to determine if it poses a significant risk, and if an advertiser should consider pulling their spend from that show.

Keeping your brand safe

Brand safety and suitability shouldn’t be an afterthought for your business. Consumers have made it clear time and time again: if your brand is associated with content they find offensive, your reputation will suffer, and business may be affected.

If you’d like to run an audio campaign with a customized strategy catered to your brand’s values and goals, the audio experts at ARM can help you connect with the right creators and craft effective, resonant messages. Contact us to get started.