Buckle up: how TikTok is keeping brands safe online

Businesses are increasingly launching out into the turbulent world of social media advertising. But how can you protect brand reputation while ensuring your message takes flight?

Emma Lacey, SVP EMEA at Zefr, provides a safety demonstration for marketers worried about a bumpy ride.

TikTok is no longer just Gen Z’s best-kept secret. The platform saw a meteoric rise throughout the pandemic, hitting one billion active users – a milestone it achieved almost twice as fast as Facebook (now Meta). It was also the most visited website in 2021, becoming the third biggest social media site in the process. All this for a platform that was launched five years ago is truly impressive.

In addition, the platform has managed to harness the power of short-form video in a way that other social apps – like the now defunct Vine – have been unable to. Its mix of filters, music, and easy editing makes it simple for anyone to create content that is enticing for both users and brands alike. In fact, adspend doubled on the platform over 2021, leading it to become the fifth-largest digital ad network in the Singular ROI Index.

But as with all new platforms, advertisers are still growing accustomed to TikTok’s evolving nature. The complexities of video content can bypass simple brand safety solutions, and with 62 percent of consumers believing that brands have full control of where their ads appear, there are consequences for inappropriate placements.

So, how does TikTok protect its brands? And how can brands keep themselves safe on the platform?

How TikTok is putting safety first

With its rapid growth, TikTok has kept a focus on brand safety, implementing frameworks to ensure the platform is trustworthy. At its inaugural TikTok World event last year, the platform indicated how seriously it took the issue, announcing partnerships with numerous third-party technology providers in order to build out its offerings.

While keeping brands away from potentially inappropriate content, the move signalled TikTok’s acknowledgement that contextual relevance was key to keeping brands safe and enhancing targeting. Some of its key initiatives include:

GARM Alignment

Over a third of marketers claim that a lack of consistent terminology for brand suitability poses a challenge to running video campaigns on social platforms. Key definitions and classifications are misaligned, which creates confusion and limits the scope of decision-making. TikTok has therefore matched its infrastructure to the Global Alliance for Responsible Media’s (GARM) Brand Safety and Suitability Framework. A cross-industry initiative established by the World Federation of Advertisers, GARM has created a universal set of standards and definitions for all stakeholders operating in the industry, enabling them to not only join the conversation but use the same language.

Embracing AI

Agreeing on safety and suitability definitions is only the beginning – the next step is enforcing them. TikTok has enlisted the help of third-party partners to implement AI-based technology and keep brands safe.

Machine learning and cognitive-AI-based models combine audio, text, and video frame-by-frame analysis with scale to ensure no nuance is missed. This framework – also mapped to the GARM brand safety floor and brand suitability categories – provides advertisers with independent, video-level verification of their content adjacencies on TikTok, meaning they can see exactly where their ads appeared with precision and accuracy.

This ensures brands aren’t reliant on traditional approaches to brand safety like semantics and keyword blocking. These strategies are traditionally used on the open web and are simply insufficient for the highly dynamic and nuanced world of video.


TikTok has also gained a number of certifications to embed its commitment to safety. It was awarded the Gold Standard 2.0 certification from the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB UK) in February 2021 due to its efforts around providing the best possible advertising environment for brand partners. It also gained the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) Brand Safety Worldwide and Middle East certifications delivering assurance to brands that they are aligning with industry-standard practices, and are achieving the reach that they claim, based on independent verification.

Taking control

With all the safeguards TikTok is putting in place, brands may be tempted to rest on their laurels. But safety and suitability strategies should always be repeatedly reviewed and assessed to meet brands’ evolving needs, especially on new, fast-moving platforms.

Implementing a flexible strategy first means keeping in mind that no two platforms are the same. What works on Facebook/Meta, may not work on TikTok, so implementing a cross-platform strategy that enables brands to adapt preferences and risk thresholds to the tone of each environment is essential for a successful campaign.

Marketers should also look to embrace granular analysis – on newer platforms this is even more pertinent. Greater analytical transparency between both brands and TikTok not only helps to increase trust but can also give marketers a better idea of the effectiveness of their spend.

Finally, brands need to harness universal suitability definitions that TikTok itself is adhering to. Though each platform is different and comes with unique brand safety challenges, risk is always going to be present unless all online industries pull together to tackle it. Embracing the frameworks and taxonomies laid out by GARM helps bring that goal closer.

Navigating new platforms can be a minefield for brands. Showing caution in these environments is expected, but with TikTok’s firm commitment to making the platform safe and impactful for marketers, brands will be able to grow their presence rapidly and be protected on the app.

Emma Lacey