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Brand Safety & Digital Safety: Insiders Predict What’s Ahead In 2024

By Rob Rasko, CEO, The 614 Group


2024 is a year that will dictate the future. From the election to AI, 2024 will shape who we are and how we live and work for generations to come. In the ad business, there’s a lot of money to be made due to global election spending and the Olympics but at what cost?


The country is deeply divided and at times, our industry is as well. 2024 will be an amazing time to connect brands to loyal and new customers but how we do it will be under intense scrutiny and our tone will matter. I believe this will present opportunities for the advertising industry to be stewards and leaders for overall economic growth. As an industry leader and advocate for Brand Safety and Digital Safety, I believe both will be leading drivers of innovation and new concepts to market products in 2024. I consciously say, Brand and Digital Safety, because despite common wisdom, they are two very different things and in this blog, I share ways our industry can achieve both in 2024.


While the marketplace frequently puts forth complex definitions I propose a simpler concept for 2024. Brand Safety is the responsibility of companies who derive revenue from advertising on the internet, to people and other businesses. Digital Safety, on the other hand, encompasses what consumers and “nonprofessional” internet users care about when they are online: proactively ensuring the safety of kids and families, safeguarding personal data, ensuring exposure to only safe and appropriate content, being inclusive regarding all races, genders, ages, etc and bolstering cyber security to prevent malware attacks.


If we get brand and digital safety right, people will spend more time and money online. Advertisers will spend, brands will thrive and we can achieve key goals, building businesses, influencing people all while protecting their customers.If we get it wrong, we risk losing the audience, the very people we want to connect with. They will stop using the apps and sites we’ve come to know and they will opt to cease participating. A real example of brand and digital safety being separated from each other occurred when Elon Musk told advertisers to “GFY” in November. In this example, I believe he’s saying he doesn’t care about Brand Safety as we defined it, but I think he does value Digital Safety. Agree with him or not, Elon embraces his view on DS by prioritizing his users and not big advertisers and letting the advertiser’s chips fall where they may.


In December of 2023 the second installment of the ANA report was released and while the title refers to programmatic media, it states in the paper that it covers just the open web and not walled gardens. However, the report does make broad statements about the digital supply chain in general. A message from the ANA implies a message from the advertisers to their agencies, the technology business and the media owners, “you are wasting some of our money.” I read the report closely and I didn't see anything about digital safety as I defined above. The focus on media budget waste and no mention of user experience is a big miss when making such a big statement about digital.


I’d bet money Elon never read the ANA report. Maybe he never heard of the organization. Elon is the richest and one of the world's most powerful individuals running a media property sans knowledge of the industry or nuance to navigate it to keep people safe in real time. But as usual, Elon being Elon has set the table for a battle in 2024 between folks who wish to dictate Brand Safety and the little guy’s need for Digital Safety as he, the regular guy, sees it.


2024 will be a year when AI and Mis/Disinformation will be in focus, in a year when the United States will elect a president–an outcome having global ramifications. The world's biggest media platforms–Google, Meta, TikTok, X and others–have no choice, as consumer-facing products, but to care about digital safety or lose trust or worse, their audiences. As platforms are also places for major brands to find new clients, influence sales of products and service, goods of all types, and political discourse and election choices, I submit they must care about Brand Safety too, and some platforms have been quite vocal on the topic.


At the end of 2022, I predicted that ’23 would be The Year of Brand Safety. Upon reflection, my predictions were either spot on, close, or not too far off. The end of 2023 and beginning of 2024 isn’t an opportunity to pat myself on the back but a look ahead–to reset our commitment to creating narratives that change behaviors. Coming back from the latest edition of CES and seeing the things business people are talking and writing about, with many optimistic business forecasts, my hope is as one year closes and another opens is that we all realize we need each other, that the good work on Brand Safety and Digital Safety which happens behind the scenes becomes public, and the good efforts come across in the messaging, the level of rhetoric emboldens all sides to work harder together to get what the world, and not just the industry, needs into the forefront. That will be good for us as people and business people.