What Is Facebook Brand Safety?

Facebook recently announced the upcoming rollout of brand safety tools that could offer advertisers “safer,” more targeted placement on Facebook’s News Feed. Garett Sloane for Ad Age reported, “In recent weeks, Ad Age spoke with multiple ad agency and ad tech partners about the [Facebook brand safety] program; if all goes as planned it would give brands unprecedented control over where ads appear in News Feed, which until now has been considered one of the most chaotic environments in digital marketing.”

Why Is Facebook Introducing Brand Safety For Its News Feed?

Over the summer, when politics and the pandemic were creating a very busy social media environment, brands started to get antsy about the type of content that was appearing alongside their ads. And, rightly so. Many consumers assume advertisers endorse the content their ads appear near, and consumers are pickier than ever about how brands react to sticky social and political issues. 

In July of 2020, Ad Age reported that Facebook was planning to address brand safety issues, a sign that Facebook was listening to advertisers. In early 2021, Facebook released an announcement that briefly explained what the brand safety tools will offer and that the tools will be tested with a select group of advertisers before rolling out wide. Facebook has brand safety measures in place for other parts of its platform, but this new tool is the first for the News Feed.

Other social platforms, including Pinterest and YouTube, have also tackled the issue of brand safety in recent months, including an emphasis from Pinterest on the benefits of advertising with positive content and a brand safety accreditation from the Media Rating Council (MRC) for YouTube.

How Will The Facebook Brand Safety Measures Work?

Facebook explained the new brand safety measures in a blog post, “Facebook will soon begin building and testing new advertiser topic exclusion controls with a small group of advertisers. These controls will help to address concerns advertisers have of their ads appearing in News Feed next to certain topics based on their brand suitability preferences.” For instance, topic exclusion tools allow advertisers to exclude any content related to the topic “crime and tragedy” from appearing near their ads. The rollout of the test and new Facebook brand safety tools for the News Feed are likely to take a year to complete. 

There are several issues Facebook is still ironing out as it refines the edges of News Feed brand safety tools, namely maintaining the privacy of its users when targeting ad placements and how far to go with preserving the “tastes and sensibilities” of advertisers. “Providing advertisers topic exclusion tools to control the content their ads appear next to is incredibly important work for us, and to our commitment to the industry,” said Carolyn Everson, VP of global marketing solutions at Facebook. “With privacy at the center of the work, we’re starting to develop and test for a control that will apply to News Feed. It will take time, but it’s the right work to do.” 

Are There Negative Effects When Advertisers Exclude Keywords For Brand Safety?

Although the events of the last year sparked a more vocal commitment from platforms and publishers to offer brand safety to advertisers, “blocklists” or excluding keywords aren’t a new practice and can have negative implications when advertisers choose not to advertise adjacent to marginalized groups they may feel are associated with touchy subjects. While avoiding subjects that don’t align with brand identity is understandable, keyword exclusions can have negative implications for brands by limiting consumer reach. Likewise, keyword exclusions can impact the ability of publishers to monetize news related to real issues, potentially decreasing the frequency of reports on social causes over time. Despite these cautions, brand safety measures focused on offering advertisers confidence in the placement of their ads are likely to gain advertiser trust in the long run.

Advertisers that have been in talks with Facebook about the News Feed brand safety test and tools have said that, if they “can truly control where ads appear,” including context around ads, the functionality could “influence how they bid on ads in the auction, [and] the value of certain inventory, and [the brand safety functionality] even has ramifications for the Facebook algorithm.” (With changes to the algorithm based on the assumption that the most monetizable content is more likely to be shown to Facebook users, but the effects of brand safety on the News Feed won’t be known for quite some time.) 

As with all media buys and targeting tools, there is no set it and forget it solution. Once the Facebook News Feed brand safety tools are fully rolled out, advertisers will need to manage their campaigns closely in order to measure the impact of topic exclusions and achieve performance expectations. 

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