Brand safety is not a new challenge, yet it remains top-of-mind for brands and continues to earn global attention.
Brands still experience brand safety issues today, and while industry stakeholders have called for transparency and accountability from tech vendors and ad partners, new standards for brand safety are critical to protecting our brands from association with unsafe, illegal, and inappropriate content.
A forecast from eMarketer predicts that media ad spend in the US will reach almost $259bn this year. Marketers will need to be more adept than ever in how they invest their programmatic ad dollars in 2020. Neglecting to do so could have expensive consequences. Research from the CMO Council shows that 48% of consumers would abandon brands if their ads appeared next to offensive content or fake news.
As your team formulates its brand safety strategy for next year, it helps to pause and ask what brand safety is and assess how the different degrees of brand safety can help advertisers, publishers, and platforms work together to find a sustainable solution that is not only transparent but also scalable and effective.
What is brand safety?
Brand safety is a set of strategies and measures to protect brands from appearing in unsafe environments. The ultimate goal is to ensure brand equity and consumer trust remain intact.
One of the most common techniques advertisers rely upon is a blacklist, which documents all the domains a brand ruled out as an advertising channel. Additionally, keyword blacklisting keeps a record of words to avoid that are considered off-limits.
For example, as mounting concern over the rise of fake news has urged marketers to take action, brands have worked with ad verification partners to ban their content from appearing on these untrustworthy sites or alongside content containing specific words or phrases like "racism" or "bomb."
However, modern marketers are increasingly realizing a blacklist alone is not sufficient.
Why blacklisting falls short
Blacklisting was the technological solution of choice for a long time. While it's useful, it can also be overly broad, as common terms can sometimes block safe and brand-appropriate content, and it is difficult to customize for the unique needs of each advertiser. This can diminish advertiser reach and waste valuable ad dollars – an advertiser’s nightmare.
The reality is environments that are 100% brand-safe just don’t exist. There is not an objective, straightforward set of "brand-safe" and "brand-unsafe" environments.
Of course, some content is unsafe for all brands, such as hate speech or terrorism. However, other content is less obvious. Brands need to decide on suitability based on their values and the consumers they hope to reach.
That's where blacklisting misses the mark. For instance, keyword blocking for the term "knife" will likely protect advertisers from stories about crimes involving knives. Still, it will also block a large number of cooking pages or even metaphors about something that cuts like a knife. The same goes for URL string blocking. Some URLs are non-descript and can, therefore, increase brand risk or become missed opportunities.
In many ways, it comes down to figuring out the right balance between protecting the brand and scale. And blacklisting often fails to find the correct formula.
Why custom brand safety is the answer
As we discussed earlier, some content is unsafe for brands no matter what. There is a default list of sensitive categories used in the ad tech industry to track and exclude pages, which include topics like crime, military conflict, obscenity, adult content, etc.
These standard segments offer an off-the-shelf approach to brand safety but lack the nuance and subtlety brands need to maximize their reach and scale.
Instead, brands should create custom brand safety segments that take into account their specific needs. Otherwise, blanket exclusions can under-serve your campaign and unnecessarily limit where your ads are placed.
Understanding true context
Understanding the intended context of the page in real-time can help brands benefit from both safety and scale. Advances in contextual technologies maximize the impact of every dollar spent, resulting in more brand conversions and increased potential for customer acquisition.
In a world of evolving content, the only way to understand true context is to dive deep and analyze content at the page level. Crawling, reading, and categorizing each asset on every page to understand the conversation can help marketers make informed decisions about where their ads are placed and optimize their campaigns to capture consumer attention.
Cutting-edge technologies use advanced machine-learning algorithms to determine whether the content of a page is appropriate not only based on the terms on that page but the context in which they are used so there are no blind spots. They also help advertisers build models that meet their specific brand needs, not just generic categories.
Why it works for brands
Custom brand safety is a proven way to elevate your advertising strategy. Why? It takes into account a brand's subjectivities. For instance, what is "brand-suitable" to Warby Parker may be off-limits for a company like BMW.
Just as each person is different, brands also espouse unique traits and nuances. Whether they take a no-risk approach or want more latitude as far as where they want their ads to appear, both types of brands can avoid risk while extending their reach using contextual intelligence.
And with the breadth of custom brand safety solutions available, online advertising becomes progressively safer than ever before.
Brand safety in 2020 and beyond
Misplaced and misaligned ads are a constant threat to the reputation of the world's biggest brands. But brand safety isn't just something that should be initiated when an unfortunate event occurs.
A robust brand safety strategy requires an always-on approach, one that avoids oversights by continually monitoring and reacting to ever-changing content and placing your messages in the most relevant places to best engage consumers.
Looking ahead to 2020 and beyond, consider how you can take a proactive approach to brand safety. Leveraging contextual intelligence partners can help you strike a balance between suitability and reach for your specific brand and help you go from cautious to confident in an evolving programmatic world.
Derek Wise is vice-president, context at Oracle Data Cloud.