Paula Hulley: Business success and online brand safety go hand-in-hand

The definition of good business practice is being able to evolve in parallel to the rapid changes, opportunities and even threats of modern technology. That is why the equity and economy of building brands online has taken centre stage. Good business practice online translates into tangible, sustainable impact.

Businesses are accustomed to curating their image through advertising and marketing and, while the dominance of digital as a medium has added a layer of complexity to protecting brand reputation, when brand safety is managed pro-actively and collectively, the power of digital to deliver business impact in the digital economy can be seen in these three key areas:


  • The digital economy enables us to connect and engage at an unprecedented scale and pace: The digital economy offers extensive insight on our audiences, clients and stakeholders, including how and where they engage with our brand at all touch points. It can offer a nuanced, considered approach to engaging with customers, if leveraged correctly. “The key is constructive partnership,” says Chris Borain, chairperson of the IAB SA. “If brands, agencies and publishers work together, we can unlock new services, utilities and business opportunities. Of course, this begins with digital advertisers and publishers ensuring safe and trusted spaces for brands and audiences to interact.”


  • Building brands digitally to contribute to the growth of good business in South Africa: Digital marketing and communication exists at the forefront of online innovation. The way we design solutions to engage our audiences reflects more than an advertising strategy. It illustrates how we address the alignment of our brands to appropriate content online, and how we protect our online spaces. Audrey Naidoo, head of digital marketing for Absa, and member of the Brand Council for the IAB SA, says: “Brand safety is a continuous effort. In practice, this means actively using the brand safety tools when buying media, but also investing in third party services, leading to improved ad placement and fraud protection. Brand safety cannot be viewed in isolation, but rather needs to be considered holistically, together with viewability and ad fraud. It requires us to collaborate with each other to find a workable solution for all invested.”


Brad Page, head of IAB SA agency council and partner at Neo@Ogilvy, says: “When buying digital media across an increasingly fragmented supply chain, agency buyers need to be critical and vigilant when assessing the brand safety parameters and measures which the supply side provide. The ad tech which is leading brand safety measures for advertisers is still evolving and, although risk is mitigated, it is not eradicated. Learning how to keep your brand safe in a digital advertising space is a departure point and, due to the evolution of the web, it’ll be an ongoing journey.”

While the process or the technology behind programmatic ad buying is often blamed, it is critical that we foster awareness of the risks at hand, and acknowledge our role in our brand’s safety. Paul Stemmet, founder and CEO of Shinka and member of the IAB SA Tech Lab committee, adds: “There are conscious, human decisions we make that impact the health of our brands online. It starts with the goals we set for our brand, as well as the measures we put in place to evaluate the success of our goals. It then extends to the way in which we continue to audit and analyse the success of digital ad campaigns to optimise campaigns and affect real change.”


  • Recognising the impact of digital to enable our right to access information: While there is a lot of work to be done, digital as a tool for good can create opportunities for all connected citizens. If we work together, we can ensure that these benefits through digital enable and empower people from all walks of life. This can only be done in partnership with one another.

As the IAB SA, we are taking definitive steps to proactively work with our members in creating and managing brand safe environments through smart, actionable insights, and demystifying the technology to foster a safe brand value chain.  We are on board to support the industry and industry collectives to proactively navigate a solution-based approach to Brand Safety – to ensure maximum impact and alignment with our strategy to empower the media and marketing industry to thrive in a digital economy.

Our brand safety committee is currently developing a white paper focused on collaborative education around how SA advertisers and brands are dealing with brand safety. In the white paper we unpack:

  • How to keep your brand safe in a digital advertising space;
  • How SA advertisers and brands are dealing with brand safety and what measurements are in place,
  • What criteria determine an unsafe environment.

We are speaking at the Brandstand event on Wednesday, October 17, at 9:30 – along with Sanef, Media Monitoring Africa and fellow industry peers – to launch our draft.

The power of building brands digitally requires accountability and responsibility by all stakeholders in the value chain, including brand safety, privacy rights and information rights. Without a collective effort, we will not achieve the impact we need to change the current decision-making process across all businesses.

This is an important moment in our digital history, where brands assert themselves online and refuse to be aligned with unsavoury content. By partnering in all our varying capacities in the digital media and marketing industry, we can not only make the Internet a safe space for all of us, but a powerful tool in building a sustainable, innovative economy in South Africa.

Paula Hulley is the IAB SA CEO, with a 20 year career commencing in brand marketing at Speedo, then Touchline Media, joining digital agency Gloo in its first year of inception, going on to become MD of the CT office, and then MD of the integrated business, Gloo@Ogilvy post the merger with Ogilvy in 2015. Paula then became Head of Innovation & Digital for Ogilvy Cape Town. Paula has worked across brands such as Puma, BWE CAT, Investec, Samsung, Audi, KFC, Vodacom, FNB, Virgin Active, BAT, Woolworths, Allan Gray and Assoc Mags, and was on the Digital Board at Ogilvy and IAB board as Vice Chair before her role as CEO. She holds a BA degree from Stellenbosch University with psych honours degree from UNISA, post-degree in Copywriting at Red & Yellow and Finance FNFM at UCT GSB.