Returning to X: Will appointing brand safety head rekindle advertisers’ love?

X recently appointed Yale Cohen, who previously worked for Publicis Media, as its head of brand safety and advertiser solutions

by Sohini Ganguly
Published - April 05, 2024
6 minutes To Read
Returning to X: Will appointing brand safety head rekindle advertisers’ love?

Elon Musk’s X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, has appointed Yale Cohen, who previously worked for Publicis Media, as its head of brand safety and advertiser solutions. This comes at the back of the platform constantly losing advertisers’ trust and confidence over brand safety issues. The New York Times even reported that in 2023, X lost around $75 million in advertising revenue as dozens of major brands paused their marketing campaigns on the platform.

For the uninitiated, major players like Walmart, Disney, Apple, Sony and IBM pulled the plug on their advertising on X, post their ads being placed alongside unsavoury content. The giants found their ads popping up against seriously nasty content—think white nationalism and even pro-Nazi content. Media reports suggest that IBM even told CNBC, “IBM has zero tolerance for hate speech and discrimination and we have immediately suspended all advertising on X while we investigate this entirely unacceptable situation.”

So, can X’s decision to bring onboard an expert to specifically look into brand safety lure back the advertisers that walked out? The industry stands divided.

Sajal Gupta, Chief Executive, Kiaos Marketing, feels that this step will go a long way to build advertiser confidence. “Trust, safety and content moderation are areas advertisers have been asking X to work on to make its platform more conducive for brand communication,” he added.

Abhinay Bhasin, Head of Product Marketing, ProfitWheel, comes with a similar opinion and feels that filling in the position of a Head of Brand Safety reassures advertisers and stakeholders the platform’s commitment to ensuring ad messaging and communication on the platform is positioned alongside safe content taking care of required sensitivities.

Similarly, Shradha Agarwal, Founder and CEO, Grapes, says that this move can be seen in the light of a proactive approach to monitor content rigorously aimed at identifying and rapidly addressing any issue violating the safety of the brand.

Brand safety has been a raging issue, especially in a pandemic-led world, with a boom in unsavoury news content and an explosion in news about wars breaking out globally. EY’s latest M&E report also highlighted that as much as 95% respondents had taken some precautions regarding the placement of ads in unsafe environments/ platforms.

So, this doesn’t come as a surprise when a few other industry experts feel that while appointing a brand safety head is a step in the right direction, it may not be sufficient to fully address the concerns that led to the advertising pullback.

One of them says that it is too early to tell and one can get a better picture once the platform is able to prove itself. “And that is not by appointing someone, that is by showing that ads are placed appropriately. So, maybe, in the next couple of months we’ll know how effective this appointment is,” the person added.

Agarwal too agrees and says that while the move aligns with the purpose of rebuilding trust among the once loyal advertisers, it is very early to comment on the outcome of the decision. Experts also noted that X is the least preferred platform as of now for advertisers to tap the potential audience. Agarwal believes it will not make much difference in the industry. “In order to attract advertisers, along with overseeing safety compliance, it is recommended that the head also calibrate the engagement rate and observe consumer behaviour to devise effective strategies to reach the audience,” she said.

Another expert from a leading digital agency echoes a similar voice and notes that the appointment of a single individual may not be enough to reassure advertisers who are seeking more comprehensive and proactive measures to protect their brand reputation. “Additionally, the lingering doubts stemming from past incidents may take time to dissipate, and some advertisers may opt to remain cautious or explore alternative advertising channels until they are convinced of X's commitment to ensuring brand safety,” the person said.

exchange4media has written to Disney, Paramount & IBM who were amongst the ones to stop advertising on X, but is yet to hear back.

X has been under troubled waters for a while now. The company had recorded $1.57 billion in revenue in the last three months of 2021, which was the last year the company reported fourth-quarter earnings before Elon Musk took over. Of this revenue, nearly 90 percent came from advertising. However, advertisers of late have been hesitant to advertise on the platform, citing X-owner Elon Musk’s behaviour and content moderation decisions, which eventually resulted in a rise in hateful content.

However, according to Bhasin the move by X in filling this ‘brand safety’ vacancy will boost advertiser confidence, especially since the head is from an agency background and understands brand and agency sensitivities. “A key focus would now be to market through real action how policies and safeguards within the platform will strengthen advertiser confidence in brand safety measures,” he added.

Mitesh Kothari, Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, White Rivers Media says this is a clear message to advertisers who left after last year's turbulence.
Kothari also pointed out that the timing of this appointment may be influenced by upcoming elections. He added, "But it's also likely driven by X's broader need to restore advertiser trust. Elections can heighten the importance of content moderation, but this role is crucial for X's long-term brand safety.”

In February 2024, the platform announced it would expand access to its vetted inventory pilot with Integral Ad Science, a global media measurement and optimization platform, to all US advertisers. In this partnership, IAS will classify all Vertical Video Ad adjacencies for brand safety and suitability aligned to the GARM (Global Alliance for Responsible Media) framework.

“This solution gives participating advertisers maximum control over where their ads appear exclusively on the X vertical video feed,” the company said. It had added that in addition to its IAS relationship, X has invested in its brand safety team with new hires, including a new partner manager and an operations manager. “The team will continue to expand in Q1,” the company had further noted.