Marcus Pousette
Apr 11, 2022

Historical brand-safety tools no longer enough for today’s media planners

In diverse SEA, marketers need to engage multiple audiences while still protecting their brands from harmful ad placement. One-size-fits-all approaches to brand safety are not up the challenge, writes Channel Factory’s MD for Southeast Asia.


655 million people, 100 ethnic groups and more than 1000 different languages and dialects spoken.

This is just a snapshot of Southeast Asia’s vast and varied populations, which make it one of the world’s most diverse regions. Yet despite this, marketers are still using a uniform, one-size-fits-all approach to their advertising and brand-safety initiatives.

The issue of brand safety has certainly escalated in recent years amid the region’s explosion of user-generated content (UGC). This type of content can be a double-edged sword for brands’ appeal in SEA. On the one hand, UGC provides the opportunity for both rapid scale and hyper-localisation. On the other, however, it can land brands in some unpleasant hot water.

Due to the ambiguous nature of UGC, brands face a minefield of content that has the potential to be misaligned or harmful to them. Given SEA’s vast range of culture and socioeconomic levels, what may seem a fun, harmless ad in one market may spark a fierce backlash in another. Content centred around sexual orientation, for example, may not be well-received among some of SEA’s more conservative populations.

Advertising in the wrong environment can be hugely detrimental for a brand. According to a survey conducted by TAG and BSI, up to 82% of consumers worldwide will stop using brands that appear alongside the wrong content.

Ever since advertisers’ infamous YouTube boycott of 2017, the marketing industry has pivoted en masse towards blocking technology that filters out the most offensive content. Unfortunately though, this industry-wide practice has turned out to be a blunt tool. The use of block lists provided by ad verification companies has resulted in a disproportionate amount of content getting blocked, thereby limiting an ad’s reach and engagement.

If safety controls and tools remain too restrictive, brands could find themselves missing out on scores of audience eyeballs and potentially millions of dollars in sales. That is why it’s necessary to take a more nuanced approach to ad placement: a brand’s suitability, not just its safety alone.

Curating a strategy

It is easy for regional marketers and media planners to sometimes feel like overprotective parents. After all, they are the SEA gatekeepers to some of the world’s most renowned brand names. But as Asia's internet economy skyrockets, now is the time to let off the shackles. In SEA alone, 40 million new internet users came online in 2021 pushing the total number of internet users to 440 million.

Meanwhile, in the wider APAC region, the advertising economy is slated to increase by 11.2% to US$235 billion in 2022. With such numbers at stake, marketers must be prepared to strike a balance between brand safety risks and potential for exponential reach.

Using brand suitability as a guide, marketers should consider factors such as the brand itself: for example, a consumer packaged goods (CPG) company would likely need a “safer” approach than a fashion or fitness company. Brands should also consider content they specifically wish to avoid, such as alcohol use when advertising to Brunei audiences.

Alongside this, marketers will need a keen awareness of different nations’ cultural preferences, especially when advertising on social media and YouTube, where UGC reigns.

According to a report by Google, audiences in Thailand are more likely to watch comedies on YouTube, while those in Indonesia show a preference for Korean content. Meanwhile, fitness videos are on the rise in the Philippines, while Singaporeans have developed a taste for computer hardware videos. Delving deep into all these individual nuances will help marketers and media planners nail their media strategies.

Finally, marketers can look at the raft of emerging tools that claim to offer contextual analysis of a web page during a programmatic exchange. These can match up an advertiser’s pre-bid and post-bid targeting criteria, enabling them to avoid an inappropriate environment without the need for blocking technology. Metadata analysis and rigorous vetting of a content creator’s output quality will also go a long way in ensuring brands are placed in a suitable environment.

It remains a challenge to keep up with SEA’s phenomenal explosion of UGC content while safeguarding brands from harmful content. However, continuing to use an outdated, one-size-fits-all approach only increases the risk of misplacement in a region like SEA. As such, it is time for marketers to put away the blunt tools and sharpen their focus on SEA’s diversity, richness and vast growth potential.

Marcus Pousette is managing director for Southeast Asia at Channel Factory.

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