Digital advertising: Brand safety matters to consumers 

Editor’s note: Nicole Jones is SVP client management channel growth at market research firm Kantar, New York.

FTC investigations, advertisers returning to Twitter, Musk’s ongoing PR rollercoaster … It comes as no surprise that many marketers are still playing “wait and see” when it comes to Twitter, especially as questions around brand safety and privacy compliance continue to evolve. 

Despite these raised concerns, some advertisers (including Disney and privacy- juggernaut Apple, at the time of this writing) have continued leveraging Twitter as part of their marketing campaigns. Yet others have begun investing in and experimenting with other platforms like LinkedIn and TikTok, with the latter making a big push to capture the ad dollars that hang in the balance.

To understand how to navigate brand safety on Twitter and across social channels in general, brands need to recognize what consumers are truly concerned about; how their expectations and emotions are evolving; and how 2023 media trends will affect the brand safety conversation. 

Why brand safety matters to consumers and how measurement needs to evolve

Meta, then Facebook, faced similar widespread scrutiny as part of the Stop Hate For Profit movement. And prior to that, there were concerns over YouTube marketing. Brand safety has been a concern for marketers since the dawn of advertising. How your ad shows up and the context that accompanies your creative has a massive impact on your campaign’s ultimate success. 

What’s different in 2023? Consumers are much more aware and sensitive to their ad experiences, in part because new regulations and moves from players like AT&T regularly ask consumers if they want to allow tracking. Kantar’s Media Reactions 2022 report (registration required) found the excessive targeting using personal data as well as repetitiveness or being “too seen” is a major turn-off for consumers. 

This creates a lot of debate around how to approach getting and maintaining attention, while avoiding creating feelings of annoyance. The industry is clearly waking up to the fact that audience measures such as viewability don’t really reflect the likely impact of campaigns, as the various attempts to create attention metrics indicate. It is quite right that we seek better measures. Kantar’s analysis shows that where sales outcomes of campaigns are known, it’s clear that measures of simple attention show some relationship with sales. On the other hand, measures such as facial expressiveness, which indicate a degree of emotional or cognitive engagement with the content, are far better predictors at behavior change. And this is enhanced further if we look at attitudinal responses. It’s that mix of System 1 and System 2 data that provides the best insights.

Outside of evolving measurement practices, marketers also need to be careful and mindful when considering ad frequency in each campaign. Picking publishers and platforms that help your ad show up the right way and the right number of times is a critical part of brand safety efforts. 

This is an increasingly important lesson for marketers – brand safety is context specific, not channel specific.

This position is backed by Musk himself, who recently stated that the Twitter team is focused on brand safety but added that brand safety depends on the individual company and its ability to choose what kind of content it wants to put its advertising next to.

When it comes to brand safety, understanding what your target audience is looking for should be the north star in how you develop your campaign, but where and how you are extending your hero campaign should be your compass. Thinking about your marketing execution in this way ensures that you are leveraging the right media strategy to complement your creative. Marketers should consider what the primary drivers of virality should be and how those drivers reflect the attitudes and values of their target audience.  

How purpose is expediting brand safety concerns

Not only are consumers more clued into how their data is being used in ad experiences, but they also want more from brands and advertisers. Our data shows that 84% of Americans expect businesses to have a positive impact on society and the environment (U.S. Monitor, Q3 2021), and that approach should be reflected across and in all marketing communications. 

People are more likely to buy from brands they have a meaningful connection with and are perceived to be different, so brands should be conscious of how they communicate via digital channels and ensure their digital presence is doing the job it's intended to and contributes to a meaningfully different position. 

Marketers are faced with a catch 22. They need to balance consumer sensitivity with the need for strong insights and quality data required in developing aligned, entertaining creative that captures attention and grows brand engagement, awareness and love. Publishers who have solutions that strike the right mix of the two and are aligned from a value standpoint are going to win out as marketers continue to prioritize brand safe, privacy forward and data smart environments. 

Consumers are watching, and they want the companies and brands they buy from to reflect their values without encroaching on their privacy. Where and how your ad shows up will be analyzed and judged by consumers with the same rigor as the execution of your creative. 

Understanding the role of emotion and trust in brand safety  

In our new hybrid way of life, our integration between our digital and physical activity is more tightly knit, and we are increasingly leveraging channels for work and play. This consistent increase in digital channels naturally comes with an increase in marketers’ use of digital advertising, including social platforms like Twitter, and has intensified questions advertisers have always asked themselves. How do I truly know the impact of my campaign? What is resonating with consumers? Did my execution drive behavior and perception change? 

To answer these questions, marketers need to understand how emotion functions across digital platforms, and how to measure impact while operating across multiple channels.

We often see the wrong metrics being used to measure digital marketing effectiveness, such as click-through and completion rate. Our analysis, however, shows that behavioral metrics do not predict campaign success or brand impact. Click-through does not correlate with brand impact. And if someone watches an ad all the way through on Facebook or YouTube, it doesn’t mean the campaign is successful in terms of brand impact.

Marketers need to focus more on emotions, both in terms of the feelings they are creating in their ads and how they approach measuring those reactions.

Why? Well, digital ads that leave consumers with strong emotions are four times more likely to drive long-term brand equity and four times more likely to generate impact compared to those with weaker emotional connections. They are also more likely to go viral. So, when thinking about leveraging digital channels, whether it be Twitter or TikTok, focusing on emotional impact is a key way marketers can ensure brand safety and create a positive return on investment.

How to think about Twitter media buys 

The desire to develop a brand-safe strategy while reaching measurable audiences at scale may incentivize brands to seek out less controversial social platforms like LinkedIn and Pinterest. This could offer the scale of tech with brand safety standards closer to those of premium publishers.

But Twitter should not be discounted. While the changes ushered in by Musk have caused some advertisers to pause, some media companies, newsrooms and sports leagues are reaping in too much revenue to walk away from Twitter.

While there are concerns around how brand safe Twitter is, marketers would do well to remember that Twitter still has protocols in place to ensure that brands are protected in the Twitter environment. And while these protocols may have to be iterated in recent months, they are still in place and the goal is still the same – creating a viable and successful brand safe experience for advertisers. 

Marketers need to understand that no platform is 100% brand safe because that’s impossible to guarantee in environments that rely on user-generated content. The advertising art comes in weighing the risk and reward. Twitter is the perfect platform as it means engaging where conversations happen in real time. It also is an environment in which consumers can view the ads and comment on them. 

There is still a lucrative opportunity to drive growth for brands and marketers who utilize Twitter. However, as the platform is still in a state of evolution and transition, advertisers would be wise to watch carefully and pick their moments and influencers. 

Evolving the brand safety conversation

Overall, marketers can expect Twitter to continue being a pivotal communication vehicle this year and in years to come. 

At the same time, given brand safety concerns, brands will be more inclined to work with publishers that provide high-quality content environments. This seems to dovetail with privacy headwinds in that those same environments provide first-party data against which advertisers can target and measure ads. 

Brands will be especially incentivized to work with premium publishers and platforms that prioritize brand safety, data privacy and consumer experience. So, while we shouldn’t expect a “new Twitter” anytime soon, the biggest takeaway here is that advertisers need to focus on their data strategy and evolving their measurement practices to create campaigns with positive, meaningful impact.