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3 downstream effects of your brand safety decisions

May 4, 2021

In an online ecosystem driven by volatile and unpredictable news cycles, brand safety has become the catch-all adtech solution to facilitate safe digital advertising. But not all brand safety approaches are the same, and the solution or strategy you implement can have far wider implications on your digital campaigns than you may realize.

Every technology decision comes with side effects in digital advertising. But what’s been overlooked in recent years are the downstream effects of brand safety choices. Here are three factors they influence outside of protecting brand equity.

1. Campaign scale

It’s widely accepted that brand safety measures are essential for blocking unsafe content, avoiding unwanted brand associations, and keeping campaigns controlled, but marketers don’t have to sacrifice scale if they approach it the right way.

The biggest killer of scale for brand safety? Keyword blocking.

A naïve, simplistic keyword blocking approach—at either the page or domain level—too easily leads to blocking safe content, because the presence of a single keyword can (often inaccurately) substitute for the context of the entire page. But there are often many contexts (some negative, others positive) in which a word can appear.

Knife or knives are great examples. These keywords are often blocked by advertisers due to their potential association with violence and crime. But consider the positive contexts, such as cooking, outdoor recreation (camping supplies), literature (Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife), or movie entertainment (Knives Out). In one recent study we conducted, about four out of every five pages containing the word knife were nevertheless brand-safe.

To avoid issues with scale, it’s imperative that approaches to brand safety account for this nuance and factor in the broader meaning of the page. Blocking inventory based merely on the appearance of certain keywords potentially eliminates safe and suitable content from the media buy, and that content provides much-needed scale to campaigns.

2. Ad spend

Brand safety decisions are more connected to audience buys than many marketers may realize, and even minor missteps here can lead to wasted ad spend and lost opportunity. Based on Oracle Contextual Intelligence data from 2020, more than three in four pieces of coronavirus-related content were actually safe for advertisers but unnecessarily blocked because they included “COVID” or “coronavirus.”

Driving efficiency of ad spend in the context of brand safety comes down to two things:

  • Avoiding ad impressions that fail to meet brand safety and viewability standards. No advertiser should have to pay for poor-quality impressions.
  • Limiting the number of paid-for impressions that are blocked by post-bid brand safety solutions.

Marketers can limit both instances with a brand safety approach that, again, focuses less on keywords and more on the context of the entire page.

Full-page context helps to nullify the loss of control that’s inherent with programmatic ad buying. Adopting a full-page contextual approach provides a greater understanding of the inventory in the bid, meaning it’s easier to reduce the number of blocked impressions already paid for.

3. Publisher revenue

While it behooves all marketers to maximize the efficacy of their campaigns by implementing stringent brand safety measures, this shouldn’t come at the expense of quality publishers, who are critical to the health of the digital advertising industry.

The events of 2020 offered a glimpse into this reality, while revealing the role advertisers play in ensuring publishers can monetize their own inventory. With the news focused on issues such as the coronavirus outbreak, the U.S. political election, and economic recessions, advertisers tightened their brand safety measures with the goal of avoiding risk-laden news content at all costs.

This may have seemed to be a good move in theory, but in reality, it also choked reputable publishers of valuable revenue. News content shouldn’t be avoided at all costs, as it often is by advertisers. Not all news is bad for brands.

The answer lies not with a black and white approach of blocking everything, but with a nuanced approach that lets advertisers target the gray areas of news content, opening up valuable inventory for bidding.

Better brand safety

Brand safety, and its evolution to brand suitability, now commands attention from every level of the organization. From the campaign manager to the chief marketing officer, each position must consider the implications of their choices. We all have a duty to support the health of the industry now and into the future.

Especially after a year like 2020, when advertisers were either pulling ad spend or doubling down on keyword blocking measures to keep campaigns clear of nefarious content, brand safety choice matters more than ever.

By Jay Pinho, manager, product management, Moat by Oracle


brand safety
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