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Brand Safety Advice from BRANDED’s Claire Atkin and Nandini Jammi

I recently connected with Claire Atkin, who co-writes BRANDED with Nandini Jammi. Each week, they offer smart, down-to-earth brand safety advice for marketers. 

I knew the ad publishers in our Ad.Product community would find their perspectives equally helpful, as we’re all aligned in creating user-first ad experiences that boost engagement and revenue.

My recent interview with Claire and Nandini feels particularly relevant in this moment, as publishers are more cautious about ad placements and user privacy — and wary of lowering their CPMs.

“We’ve found high-profile hate and disinformation sites on every site list we’ve ever reviewed…From hate speech to coronavirus conspiracy theories — it’s all funded by our ad dollars.”

 Claire Atkin, BRANDED

What inspired you to create BRANDED?

We are both career tech marketers. Nandini runs Sleeping Giants and Claire has been active in election observation. We’ve both spent a lot of time trying to get to the bottom of why there’s so much hate speech and fake news out there. 

The answer is really pretty simple: because marketers are funding it. Marketers don’t know where our ad dollars are going, and we don’t really understand how the advertising supply chain operates, so it’s easy to fund bad actors.

We started BRANDED to help fellow marketers. It’s hard to figure out the opaque world of digital advertising, but marketers have to start paying attention, because our everyday decisions can create real-life problems in our society. It’s like there’s a giant machine behind a curtain and we’re blindly pulling levers without realizing the consequences. 

How do you define and determine brand safety for digital advertising?

Don’t fund bad faith publishers or organizations. Our ads should not be funding white supremacy, hate, propaganda, or disinformation. 

A good way to think about brand safety is, is it people safe? If it actively harms people, then it’s probably not brand safe either.

What advice are you offering the marketers in your audience right now, given what you describe as the “lemon market” of ad tech? 

We recommend creating allow lists. Instead of letting your ads run on hundreds of thousands of mystery sites, identify the ones that you want your brand to be on and the ones that are driving real engagement. Cancel out the rest. 

The best ROI will be on hard news, so look there first. Go for higher CPMs too — that’s where the value is. Lower CPMs seem attractive, but if you sit down and do the math, you’ll find that they’re not driving awareness or conversions. Why waste your time?

What do you think led to so many lemons/worthless sites?

Setting up a garbage website is an easy, legal way to steal money. 

What could the ad publishers in our audience do right now to offer greater transparency and brand safety for their advertisers?

“Give your advertisers transparency into where the ads are being shown — whether that’s specific sites within your portfolio or even category pages on a single domain. Let them have the option to allow or exclude those permutations.”

 Nandini Jammi, BRANDED

You’ve been advocating for more news advertising. Where else do you see bright spots on the horizon?

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