Safeguarding government advertising online

As we continue to live with the impact of coronavirus, the public’s trust in government communication is hugely important to sustain behaviours which will limit transmissions. 

I am proud that the Government Communication Service (GCS) continues to rise to the challenge in innovative, transparent and effective ways, through publishing content that influences behaviour for public good.

Alex Aiken, Executive Director of Government Communication.
Alex Aiken

This September sees two new exciting launches for government communications, both aiming to ensure our advertising appears online in safe, credible and reputable environments. 

The SAFE Framework

The new GCS SAFE Framework is built on 4 core principles to make sure that government messaging is viewed in safe spaces that are appropriate for government.

The 4 principles are:

1. Safety and suitability

Ensuring that government advertising does not fund or appear alongside harmful and inappropriate content. This principle also considers whether an environment is suitable for government messaging.  

2. Ads context

Making sure government advertising appears in environments that provide value for taxpayer money, with the highest chances of being seen, heard and acted upon by real people. It is also important to us that our advertising appears in environments that promote good user experience.

3. Freedom of speech

We will use our advertising to support freedom of speech, while protecting the rights of individuals. We also pledge to support quality journalism, both at a local and national level, that adheres to the highest standards of editorial conduct.

4. Ethics and enforcement

It is important that we appear in environments that adhere to regulatory and data compliance standards. This means respecting users consent online and being transparent in advertising practises that prioritise safety and effectiveness in an online environment. 

The SAFE Framework enables government advertising to meet the challenges of online communications whilst providing information that is vital in improving the lives and livelihoods of the UK public.

Government return to YouTube 

A prime example of the need to have robust guidelines for government online advertising is the incident that occurred on YouTube 3 years ago. As a result of government adverts appearing next to extremist video content on YouTube, the Government withdrew all of its advertising from the platform, until we could be assured that any future advertising would be safe. 

After this 3 year hiatus, and following considerable work across GCS and our media partners, I am pleased to share that the UK Government has this month returned to YouTube. This has included considerable improvements made by YouTube, the development of bespoke practices for government, along with successful and safe piloting activity for the Royal Navy Marines and the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Test and Trace campaigns. 

The piloting activity has successfully demonstrated brand safe advertising which was independently monitored and verified, audience reach and value for money. Crucially, the return to YouTube and the options for government align to the principles of the SAFE Framework, a prerequisite for any return to be considered. 

YouTube’s far branching reach and multiple points of use (across desktop, mobile and smart TV devices) offers GCS an important array of engagement opportunities. I know, therefore, that this news will be well-received by communications colleagues across government that are planning and delivering messages of vital importance. 

Our return will allow government communicators to deliver important messaging further, whether this is bringing new talent to our education, armed and emergency services, or providing guidance on key public health issues. YouTube will be used to deliver valuable public messaging, while spending taxpayers’ money responsibly. 

The launch of the SAFE Framework and the return to YouTube clearly demonstrates our commitment to responsible advertising, providing our profession with the standards, tools, and products that enable them to communicate with the public in an ethical, transparent and cost-effective way. I would like to thank all colleagues across GCS and external partners for all their hard work getting us here. 

I would urge all my colleagues to familiarise themselves with the SAFE Framework. For more information on SAFE, and the return to YouTube, please email

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