How to increase brand safety when advertising online

Introducing brand safety control and how to maintain it

Amelie Rothfuss, senior account manager


With branding campaigns targeting audiences rather than placements, companies have little control over where their ads are served. This has the potential to harm brand reputation.


Branding campaigns, particularly Google Display ads and other programmatic campaigns, offer practically limitless potential to capture the attention of broad audiences with compelling visual ad content. However, when managing these campaigns, we sometimes find that our ads end up being served on websites whose sole purpose is to monetise their content through such ads. The content on these websites is often thin to say the least, having been created just to attract as much traffic as possible with little regard to their human audiences. Such websites usually have a notoriously high ad-to-content ratio too.


When managing branding campaigns, the objective is to reach as many people as possible in the target audiences. Online advertising platforms offer the possibility to target users based on interests which, in turn, are identified by tracking online behaviour. This helps advertisers keep their costs low when compared to purchasing specific ad placements. However, using interest-based targeting and letting the platforms automate placements comes with some caveats. To give another example, when targeting parents on YouTube, ads often end up being served through children’s channels as well.


The challenge is to take every possible step to make sure that your ads are served in the right places to the right people. Moreover, advertisers must avoid having their ads served on sites containing sensitive content or fake news in order to preserve their brand reputations. In this article, we will present some proven strategies for increasing your brand safety and protecting your reputation when advertising online.

Introducing brand safety controls on ad management platforms

All the major online advertising networks have their own brand safety solutions, and it is vital that you use them when setting up your campaigns. These will help you avoid issues such as the following:

  • Display banners appearing on gaming websites or apps, which users often only click on by accident when trying to close the ad.

Use the following content exclusion settings to prevent that from happening:

display content exclusions
  • Video ads without any sound running between entries in YouTube music playlists. If users aren’t in front of the screen, they won’t see your ads anyway.

These are the YouTube content exclusion settings you should use:

youtube content exclusions
  • Social ads appearing on unverified pages or on those of unserious content creators that might not align with your brand identity and values.

Exclude the following content types and topics on Facebook if you don’t want your brand to be displayed there:

facebook content type exclusions
facebook topic exclusions

The Google Display Network lets you opt out of serving your ads over websites containing sensitive content. You can also choose digital content labels for different audiences, such as children, teens, and adults. 

Google also provides some YouTube specific content controls, which give you some control over how and where your ads appear in YouTube videos and live-streaming sessions.

Choose the Limited inventory to get the highest level of brand safety:

youtube inventory

Uncheck the Video partners option if you don’t want your video ad to be displayed on third party websites outside of YouTube:

Facebook and Instagram provide a similar set of controls, including an inventory filter that lets you opt out of serving your ads on pages dealing with specific topics. This also applies to in-stream video advertising on the platform, where you can opt out of advertising on pages that contain news, politics, religious, or gaming content.

Similar to YouTube, you can choose the Facebook inventory that fits your brand best:

facebook inventory

LinkedIn offers a broad set of ad placement controls, which allows you to exclude any content category defined in the LinkedIn Audience Network.

linkedin audience network category exclusions

Programmatic platforms, such as AdRoll and Adello, also feature brand safety controls, either using their own in-house solutions or specialised partners.

Maintaining brand safety

While these controls do help companies preserve their brand reputations, the real work begins once your campaigns are already running. Given the rapidly changing nature of social media and the wider internet, it is essential that you regularly review the placements of your ads and take steps to identify any unsuitable and potentially toxic social media pages, websites, and YouTube channels. Be sure to add any channels you identify to your ad placement blacklist to prevent your ads from appearing there again. It is not enough to rely on the controls you implemented before you launched the campaign, because new websites and content creators are popping up every day. Any one of these may be a potential danger for your brand safety

For advertising on Facebook and Instagram, you should regularly review the performance of your campaign by placement. If the Audience Network, Instant Articles and in-stream videos show decent KPIs, you will generally want to keep your ads running on them. If not, you should consider stopping these placements to optimise performance.

Are you worried that your ads are being served through inappropriate placements? Or are you struggling to keep up with the continuous management of your branding campaigns? comtogether has developed intelligent scripts that can help maintain brand safety and gain time.

About the author

Picture of Amelie
Amelie is as reliable and accurate as a Swiss watch. Except she's German. Her consistency, empathy and her well tempered character make her an important pillar of the comtogether team.

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