Digital Transformation Brand

The pitfalls of a 'set it and forget it' approach to brand safety and suitability

By Chance Johnson | Chief revenue officer

April 29, 2022 | 6 min read

Marketers are being forced to rethink where their ads appear every day. The pandemic already forced brands to adapt to rapidly changing news cycles, and this year, brands are investing more than ever in contextual targeting to find content environments that align with their campaign goals to make a lasting impact with consumers. Integral Ad Science chief revenue officer, Chance Johnson, explains.

Brand safety and suitability have been among the most widely discussed topics in the industry over the past few years. General consensus? Avoiding risky content such as misinformation is table stakes when it comes to protecting brand reputation.

Safety illustration with two figures suspended on ropes

But that's not the only key to brand safety and suitability.

With programmatic video ad spend projected to reach $62bn in the US this year and brands preparing for a cookieless world, contextual targeting will power the future of advertising. Global events and issues mean that brands can’t take a 'set it and forget it' approach to safety and suitability in this new frontier. So how can marketers be sensitive and sensible around current events with a precise and effective approach to media quality?

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A turning point for brand safety and suitability

Historically, brands used ad verification technology to avoid content categories, such as gambling, that didn’t align with their values. This meant that many implemented a 'set it and forget it' approach to brand safety and suitability based on a list of keywords. But the past two years have clearly demonstrated the downside of this approach and marked a turning point for brands.

For example, in 2020, marketers quickly recognized that a broad-strokes approach aimed at preventing their ads from appearing next to Covid-related content could mean missing out potentially valuable touchpoints with customers.

While contextual tools were already on the rise in 2020 as data privacy tides continued to shift, the reckoning over traditional approaches to brand safety helped drive faster adoption. Marketers began to understand that they required more sophisticated technology to focus on suitability — without limiting scale.

Unlocking opportunities with contextual

In addition to powering privacy-safe ad targeting, a contextual approach to brand safety can help marketers build a better brand experience for their audiences. It's spurring an evolution — moving from avoidance and targeting to more cohesive suitability strategies that will improve scale and marketing outcomes.

For many large global companies, there is a lot to lose when maintaining twenty different regional risk thresholds, as opposed to one framework for suitability managed by one team on a global scale. This type of shift can create an abundance of opportunity for these brands, resulting in smarter, more impactful campaigns. Today, most advertisers are leaning into this approach or acknowledge the dire need to move in this direction.

While a top-down framework is paramount, context can open up a number of nuanced opportunities to drive value. By understanding the sentiment and emotion of content, brands can maintain a deeper connection with audiences by aligning with the feelings they have while viewing that content.

For example, Hurricane Ida was a tragic event that, historically, many brands would immediately block as a keyword. However, tragedies like this also bring forth powerful, positive messages such as remarkable stories of volunteers or communities coming together to support one another, which is in line with how many brands want to market. This is why contextual tools that increase agility are increasingly important in an ever-evolving media landscape. It’s imperative for marketers’ playbook to first ideate stories that consumers want to be around — then decipher and detect emotion around certain topics.

Changing with the tides

To build a more informed and strategic approach through contextual targeting, brands must review these strategies at least a few times over the course of the year to ensure that their suitability profile is aligned with current brand values. This will allow for truly customizable practices for each unique brand — whether a bit softer for an alcohol brand, or more strict for a financial services brand.

For organizations looking to focus on implementing better safety and suitability practices, it's crucial to first home in on any new business needs and changes since the last review cycle. Then, they can build a unique profile that increases agility while realigning with the business in tandem with the rapidly evolving media landscape. Figure out what works best for your brand to bring in the most quality media possible and ensure it's aligned with your suitability profile.

Marketers today are looking to brand safety and suitability to drive cost-efficiency and media performance while providing protection throughout the changing news cycle. A contextual approach will help marketers increase efficiency so that the allocated budget is working as hard as it can while remaining aligned with a brand’s values and needs. Even with any potential additional costs that come with layering these tools into marketing strategies, the long-term value cannot be underestimated as it alleviates displaced budget, loss of visibility and wasted impressions.

Chance Johnson is chief revenue officer at Integral Ad Science.

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