Brand Safety Guide for Publishers

Brand Safety Guide for Publishers

What is Brand Safety

Brand safety is actions taken by Brands to ensure that their brand’s reputation is secure when they’re advertising and generally out and about the wide world, away from the confines of the brands website or storefront. Brand safety is generally thought of as an advertiser’s problem, but it’s very much a publisher’s concern as well.

Publishers are brands; therefore they need to ensure their brands safety as well. This means ensuring that the ads displayed are in line with its values.  For example, Apple doesn’t allow movie villains to touch iPhone because they don’t want subliminal associations with their products. Publishers should ensure that the ads displayed, the companies they represent as well as guest post authors are aligned with the brands values of the publisher. This is for both the publisher’s integrity as well as positioning themselves as more reputable and trustworthy for potential advertisers. Websites are ground zero in which brand safety concerns arise. It’s therefore in their best interest to make their site as welcoming to advertisers and mitigate brand safety concerns.

What are the concerns for both Publishers and Advertisers

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” - Warren Buffet

Warren Buffett once said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” If you think about that, you’ll do things differently. Both advertisers and Publishers need to take their brand safety incredibly seriously. One bad experience with a brand will cause a consumer to lose trust and not use them anymore. In such a high-stakes environment it’s important for both advertisers and publishers to take brand safety seriously and not just shrug and leave it to the algorithms. 

Most brand safety issues revolve around following concerns: “malgorithms”, inappropriate content and bot traffic.



This refers to the algorithms placing an ad on a page that on a very surface level share a keyword. However, those keywords are used with different tone context, making all the difference.

For example, an ad for a copper bracelet to relieve pain running alongside an article that claims copper bracelets are useless in pain relief. Buzzfeed  compiled a list of over 100 ad placement fails. While they’re entertaining for average joes, it serves as a stark wake up call for brands and advertisers.

inappropriate materialInappropriate content

Classifying content as inappropriate is dependent on the advertisers. As the IAB says, “It is critical to define what “safe” means to you and your brand. For example, some brands are comfortable being placed next to a road accident story (e.g. a road accident attorney) but others less so (e.g. a baby car-seat manufacturer or an alcohol brand).”

There is a list called “The Dirty Dozen” of the 13 most common content topics advertisers seek to avoid advertising near


Dirty dozen

  1. Military conflict 
  2. Obscenity 
  3. Drugs 
  4. Tobacco 
  5. Adult 
  6. Arms
  7. Crime 
  8. Death/injury 
  9. Online piracy 
  10. Hate speech 
  11. Terrorism 
  12. Spam/harmful sites 
  13. Fake news – (new since 2018)

Back in 2017 Verizon and AT&T pulled their ads from Google after their ads were displayed near hate content. This led to scramble by Google and other publishers and ad tech partners to make the internet safer for brands, or risk losing billions of dollars that fuel the open internet. 

Bot TrafficBot Traffic

Viewability and fake traffic is of great concerns to advertisers. It’s estimated that 56% of ads are never viewed and Marketing Evolutions estimates that within five years  $100 million a day will be wasted on ad fraud. That’s a lot of money, to put it mildly. So, brands and advertisers seek publishers that have fraud prevention in place so they feel more comfortable that their campaigns are actually being seen by real people and not being wasted and disappearing into the internet ether.

So what can publishers do to protect themselves as a brand as well present a safe option of brands?

Measures Publishers can take to ensure brand safety

So now that publishers are right and frightened, what can they do to protect both their site’s reputation as well as ensuring their site is as welcoming to as many advertisers as possible?

  • Set up negative keywords
  • Negotiate PMPs with advertisers
  • Brand Suitability
  • Maintain Ads.txt file
  • Partner with Ad Fraud Protection companies
  • Partner with Contextual Advertising companies

Negative Keywords

Publishers can protect themselves from displaying ads that run counter to their values by adding negative keywords in their ad manager. This will prevent ads with that content from appearing on their site. The most common negative keywords are adult content, gambling, tobacco and guns. If you’re a gun aficionado site, you might choose to skip health related content as it likely doesn’t match your vibe. 

Some things most publishers don’t realize is that different ad managers have different standards for what will fall under a negative keyword. For example adult content for Google may be a very broad brush, and may be more specific for Pubmatic, necessitating a publisher to create more specific keywords. NMM is uniquely qualified to address this concerns, and have enabled very sensitive publishers to run ads confidently.

Another negative keyword use is where a publisher may not want competitor ads running on their site. For example a hardware site that offers services wouldn’t want Lowe’s or Home Depot ads offering the similar services or products. Negative keywords in this case would not be a complete solution, but it would be a start.

It’s important to realize the fluidity of Brand Safety and that it’s a very individual concept. Brands need to have a clear vision of their identity so they can put appropriate safeguards in place, and not miss opportunities due to overzealous safety.   

PMP Preferred Deal

PMP – Preferred Deals

Another Effective way to protect the brand safety to protect the brand is by negotiating a PMP and working more directly with likeminded advertisers so you, the publisher knows exactly who is appearing on your site. 

Brand Suitability

Taking PMPs a step further is to consider, not just brand safety but brand suitability as well. Brand safety is protective, brand suitability is proactive. Brand suitability is when a brand aligns with a publisher, initiative, organizations, other brands and the like that share similar values and are aligned. Together their effect is amplified more than the brand acting alone.  


Making sure your ads.txt file is updated as well as ensuring the ad partners listed are reputable ones that advertisers feel comfortable with. Your ads.txt file also serves as a protection against ad frauds. Advertisers are always looking for transparency, and in an ads.txt file you are indicating to advertisers that you are a safe and reputable publisher who takes ad fraud seriously.

Ad Fraud PartnersAd Fraud Partners

Partnering with an Ad fraud Partners or using an ad partner that engages the services of a fraud services is beneficial to you. By using an ad fraud service you’re indicating once again to the advertiser that you are a safe environment, and you are taking all preventive measures to ensure that their ads are served to real people.

Contextual Advertisingcontextual ad

Having sophisticated contextual advertising can prevent a lot of “malgorithm” issues. Moving away from the very basic keyword topic match, contextual advertising artificial intelligence together with NLP can detect the tone and context on the content and appropriately match an ad, or flag an as ad incompatible.

floor pricingFloor Pricing

Having an effective floor pricing strategy has unintended positive consequences for publishers. While generally used as a mechanism to regulate a publisher’s revenue, floor pricing filters out ads that are purchased at cut rate prices. These ads are generally more prone to being offensive. 

NMM’s Approach to Brand Safety 

NMM takes a multi-pronged approach to ensure Brand Safety for its publishers and those advertising on them.

NMM is utilizes Spring Serve to combat ad fraud and fraudulent traffic. This ensures that its only humans engaging on the site (and you don’t even have to complete a captcha.)

Publishers have the ability to set negative keywords ensuring that only appropriate ads are featured on their site.

We highly recommend private marketplace deals (PMPs). NMM able to coordinate and facilitate exclusive deals for both advertisers and publishers ensuring brand safety on both ends.


Brand safety is a critical concern for both advertisers and publishers. It may seem amorphous at times and challenging to implement. The focus of detail needed to ensure that it is met at every level is difficult, but worth the investment. Brand damage can linger a long time after a seemingly minor error happens. Taking the steps to mitigate the issues pays off in the long run with a stellar, trustworthy brand.

Esther Kurtz