Policy shifts, political winds and the COVID-19 pandemic are rapidly evolving brand safety’s risks and opportunities. Media investment group GroupM has outlined recommendations for marketers on new challenges for established media and old challenges for new media.

Traditionally, most brand safety risk was limited to digital—programmatic and social. Now, with established media digitizing and reinventing themselves, opportunities to improve brand safety practices are appearing across new avenues. GroupM expects brand safety to evolve into the future within the context of political, social and technological shifts impacting it at a high level.

“In the first six months of 2020 alone, CCPA [California Consumer Privacy Act] has taken effect, Google announced they would be phasing out third-party cookies, the home stretch of the 2020 presidential campaign has come into full focus—increasing the attention on fake news—the world has been hit with a global pandemic and most recently, protests related to racial inequality,” says John Montgomery, GroupM’s global executive vice president, brand safety. “Each of these events marks a unique opportunity to continue to challenge our brand safety practices. And, as people continue to evolve in how they consume content, there is always opportunity to push the envelope to create an even safer, more trustworthy online world. We look forward to continuing to do that for our clients and partners.”

Some of the key items to consider in the evolution of brand safety include policy shifts such as General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and CCPA, and among many others around the world, that have created a seismic ripple throughout the industry, the full effects of which are yet to be felt. GroupM says that as old measurement methodologies such as third-party cookies fall away, the industry has an opportunity to collectively create better standards.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also established a “new normal, digital first” lifestyle for the majority of the global population. Consumption habits have changed—more news, gaming and streaming content—and where consumers go, advertising follows and, with it, new opportunities to strengthen brand safety measures arise. Aggressive keyword avoidance demonetizes online news, especially so during the COVID crisis, as the audiences increase at a time when the public needs reliable information. Fake news and technologies that create deepfake videos are growing more sophisticated and threaten to further erode institutional trust. GroupM advises brands to be more proactive than ever in preserving their core assets and demand transparency in all transactions.

GroupM also notes that connected TV promises to command a larger share of budgets in the coming years. However, measurement is fragmented across devices and publishers, and it recommends brands demand greater transparency and interoperability among key players. Digital out-of-home is also set to grow more advanced and complex as programmatic buying becomes more commonplace. While out-of-home has long been used for broad awareness, it remains an open question as to whether brands will have—or need—access to more granular targeting and measurement solutions.

Gaming presents a huge opportunity in terms of audience, but brands must navigate a vast landscape of platforms, titles, player personalities and publisher relationships. Esports continues to grow in popularity, but brands must be aware of adjacency risks—violence and language, particularly. If people continue to stay home in the aftermath of the coronavirus, gaming audiences will retain some of the recent rapid growth.

“Consumers and brands use technology to access media in new and interesting ways,” says Christian Juhl, GroupM’s global CEO. “As behaviors, habits and preferences shift with social factors, responsible brand safety requires a constant assessment of these changes and their impact on how brands continually earn consumer trust. GroupM has long acted as an industry advocate in shaping how we manage brand safety across new and established media partners. It’s never been more important than it is now, and we stand by our commitment with this latest guidance.”

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