Follow The Disney Principle: Move From Brand Safety to Consumer Trust

At a recent panel about brand safety, Lisa Valentino EVP, Client & Brand Solutions at Disney provided some great insight about her company’s approach to brand safety; they think about it as building consumer trust. Disney being the company that it is does a very good job of building consumer trust, and they have very strict guidelines to keep it that way.

With such a shining example of positive brand building on the panel, the other conversations about brand safety that followed seemed, frankly, too narrow. And that’s good. It’s time for our industry to move past these black and white discussions of brand safety, and start thinking about the more nuanced job of creating a brand that builds a long-lasting trusting relationship with the right audience.

Flipping The Plan Upside Down

Most brands have a deep understanding of what their customers like, and what builds trust, which can inform things like creative copy and ad targeting. Disney has taken this understanding and created another level of customer trust with this insight. They live to “make happiness through magical experiences,” so you can imagine how important it is to ensure that every experience delivers on that promise.

At the NewFronts a couple of years ago, a Disney Executive explained that they focus on quality before quantity. That way they can be sure they are building the best possible media plan for the story they want to tell. They aren’t thinking first about ‘moving product” but rather, telling the best story to the right people.

For many brands, that concept flips their standard media plan upside down. Going into Q4, everyone has a certain revenue goal to hit. But, we all know Disney hits their goals quarter after quarter, so obviously, this approach can be profitable when it’s done right.

Time To Rip Off The Band-Aid

We no longer should use “brand safety” as a band-aid term for a bigger issue that needs to be tackled. Brand safety itself is the basic, fundamental need to avoid disastrous, dangerous or harmful content. All brands should expect this from top tier media platforms, and the platforms take that seriously. But now, consumers are sophisticated. They don’t just expect brands to avoid unsafe content. They want a fully consistent, authentic brand experience. They have so many choices about who spend money with, that they are truly in control of the situation.

If a brand fully admits this, then they have to start treating the bigger issue of switching to building total consumer trust. The brand safety “band-aid” is just not the whole picture. The best approach fully accepts what customers expect of a brand, and brands build quality stories that are consistent with that expectation every single time. This includes understanding not just what is safe, but what is suitable; what makes the most sense. It’s about quality over quantity approach to every interaction.

A few years ago, Disney figured this out, big time. They realized that they were still trying to control the customer experience. For example, at their parks, they use to tell each employee to control the moment with the customer. They dropped this idea completely when they realized that consumers were actually in control, and liked it that way. Now Disney listens to customers and instead works hard to ensure that they live up to customer expectations at every moment. The same holds true for their content and advertising.

Be The Next Great Headline

We love to read articles about brave brands that live their truth. Nike supporting Colin Kaepernick. Patagonia taking a stand on Climate Change. Disney as a media network stopped allowing junk food advertisers on their shows in 2012 – seven years ago. This all sounds risky, but it’s not, because they know their audience. These brands crush sales, too.

With a customer-trust approach to everything they do, these brands have a more sophisticated approach to advertising. They don’t even need to talk about brand safety at all, because it’s naturally built into the broader customer-focused plan that they create. Brand safety evolves to brand suitability when the customer is at the core of the plan.

For these companies, this approach is not brave. It’s business as usual. Starting with a broader conversation about what content is not just safe, but is actually suitable could be a good start. As Lisa Valentino said, “Consumers seek out brands that stand for something. They don’t seek out brands that stand for nothing.” It’s time to stand up.

Read more: Putting Brand Safety in Context for Digital Publishers