Protect Your Most Valuable Asset: Brand Safety, Affiliate Marketing and Pay-Per-Call

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Your brand is the part of your business that your customers and any potential customers recognize, interact with, and (hopefully) trust. Without a strong brand, you don’t have a sustainable business.

Marketers and business leaders have known this fact for many years, prioritizing brand awareness and brand strategy in their efforts to earn business. This has remained true even as the marketing landscape continues to evolve. In fact, according to the Gartner 2020 Annual CMO Spend Survey, brand strategy was voted the most vital marketing capability of 2020.

Companies rely on their brand to drive awareness of their product offering and build their community of customers, so it makes sense that companies want to protect their brands at all costs. To do so, smart businesses put brand safety measures in place to protect the reputation of their brand.

What is brand safety?

Brand safety means something different to everyone, but it is not a new concept. In fact, marketers have been concerned about protecting their brands for decades. However, the issue of brand safety has become a hot topic recently as concerns about fake news, hate speech, and disinformation continue to grow with the maturation of digital and social media.

As documented by Google Trends, the topic of brand safety really began to pique the public’s interest in 2017, with the highest peak of search inquiries in the past few years occurring in June of 2020, presumably in correlation with racial unrest and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today, brand safety is closely tied to programmatic advertising. Many marketing leaders think of brand safety as protecting their brand from the damage that could be caused if their ad were to be promoted next to false, negative or malicious content online.

But brand safety goes beyond the programmatic definition. It also includes trademark infringement, digital fraud, ad fraud, and poor affiliate representation of the brand.

Why is brand safety such a big deal?

Consumer trust is the most important thing an advertiser can earn because it directly impacts the consumer’s decision to make a purchase. 31% of consumers rank trustworthiness as a brand’s most important attribute, putting it ahead of creativity, authenticity, and confidence.

Moreover, 31% of consumers say that their perceptions of a brand change when they become aware of a brand’s negative actions, and 26% say those negative actions cause them to not buy. And the impact can be lasting – 4 in 10 Americans have boycotted a brand in the past year due to its irresponsible behavior.

In today’s climate, as consumers value trust above all else when deciding to buy from a brand, brand safety becomes a huge concern for advertisers.

What does brand safety have to do with affiliate marketing?

When brands choose to work with affiliates, they are choosing to let those affiliates represent their brand, whether through direct product endorsement or through affiliate links on relevant publisher sites. While most performance marketing partners promote their advertisers’ products and services in a way that complements the brand’s values and guidelines, it can be unnerving for advertisers to give affiliates control when representing the brand.

Top brand safety concerns related to affiliate marketing include the following:

Brand consistency

Consistent branding has been shown to increase revenue by 31%, so it’s important for you to ensure your affiliates promote your product in a way that is consistent with all other branding efforts.

Brand infringement

Look out for misuse or unauthorized use of your brand guidelines or trademarks.

Misrepresentation of brand values

Any time an affiliate promotes a product or service, the brand should understand exactly where the ad will be placed so that content promoting the brand does not appear next to content that goes against brand values or is damaging in any way.

Misrepresentation of brand offerings

If an affiliate promotes a service, feature, or promotion that your brand does not offer, it can damage the consumer’s experience; any traffic that affiliate sends would expect to receive that offering and could have a negative view of the brand if you do not provide it.

Ad Competition

Brands should make sure their affiliates’ advertising is in no way impeding their own internal marketing efforts, whether that be through contradictory messaging or competing for the same audience’s attention by bidding on the same ad space in the same channels.


In certain cases, advertisers have been held financially responsible for the actions of their affiliate partners when it comes to the violation of laws or regulations in the lead generation industry.

Although there is increasingly more pressure on affiliates to be transparent with their lead generation process, there are still some bad players in the space. Prudent advertisers will be aware of all brand safety risks when working with a new affiliate partner, and some require approval of the affiliate creatives, enforce trademark or brand provisions, and so on.

What does brand safety mean in pay-per-call?

Pay-per-call is a form of performance marketing where affiliates, publishers, and other lead-generators generate phone call leads on behalf of advertisers who buy calls that meet their requirements.

As with all other forms of performance marketing, brands can be concerned about their brand safety in relation to consistency, infringement, and misrepresentation of values and offerings. However, the primary brand safety concerns in pay-per-call are around competition and compliance since pay-per-call is a highly regulated industry.

Read more about pay-per-call compliance here: Compliance and Publisher Vetting in Pay-Per-Call

When it comes to brand safety in pay-per-call, our partners in the past have expressed the most concern about our publishers and affiliates:

  • Generating calls in a way that is not compliant with TCPA, CCPA, TSR, CANSPAM, or HIPAA
  • Using their trademark or logo in an unauthorized way
  • Bidding on their branded keywords
  • Promoting a service, guaranteed price, or discount their brand did not offer

How do I ensure my brand is protected when working with a performance marketing partner?

When choosing your performance marketing provider, we recommend you:

  • Ask if they work with any other publishers or affiliates (and if so, ask if they offer lead source transparency so you know who those partners are or can identify the leads each partner is delivering)
  • If you work with a network, ask if they have a publisher vetting process in place; if you don’t work with a network, vet your publishers yourself using the guidelines found here
  • Monitor the quality of your leads as they are delivered to you
  • Set brand guidelines including prohibiting the use of branded keyword bidding, trademarks, or ads that will compete with your brand’s internal lead gen efforts
  • Create a creative approval process that allows your brand to review and authorize landing pages, images, and ad copy that will be used in your campaign

When you do this, you greatly limit your brand safety concerns and promote brand-safe advertising.


When choosing to advertise online, protecting your brand should be a top priority. To ensure you keep your brand safe when using affiliate marketing, be sure you understand exactly how leads will be generated and how your brand will be represented throughout the lead generation process. This will not only protect your brand but also give your consumers a great brand experience.

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