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How to achieve brand safety through contextual advertising

by Dal Gill

April 26, 2022

Changing consumer expectations and events such as the pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine have once again brought brand safety to the front of marketers’ minds. Brands are no longer expected to remain silent on current affairs and social issues, which means advertisers must strike a balance between using their voice and avoiding being associated with negative content.

A radically-changed context

In recent years we have seen what can happen when brands don’t closely control where they are placed. For example when Applebees’ dancing cowboy ad featured alongside CNN’s coverage of the conflict in Ukraine, the restaurant chain, among other brands, pulled their ads from the channel. The constant appetite for news coverage has led to a spike in screen time as viewers check news sites and apps for updates. This is a prime breeding ground for misinformation and propaganda, particularly on sites that rely on user generated content, such as YouTube. The video platform has deleted millions of misleading videos related to the pandemic from their site, but that has not stopped brands from pulling ads. When a publisher is seen to be monetizing dangerous content, it often causes a severe reputational blow for both the platform and the brands it hosts.

Brand safety is everything

Brands are aware of the positive reputational and financial consequences of making sure they feature alongside positive content. Advertising will always be placed alongside content, which means brand safety will always be a consideration. Marketers are working constantly to ensure that their content aligns with that of the platform that is hosting it, with studies showing that it is a top priority for marketers and consumers on both sides of the pond. Consumers in both Europe and North America are less likely to purchase from a brand whose ads are placed alongside harmful content, while they are more likely to have a negative view of the brand and the platform hosting it. It is no surprise, therefore, that 70% of European marketers agreed that brand safety was a top priority.

Context is key

So what can be done to ensure brand safety? How can brands align their messaging with the platforms that host them? Once again, it’s all about context. It is much easier to achieve brand safety when an advertiser’s content aligns with that of the page. By leveraging contextual AI, brands and publishers alike can achieve this and guarantee new levels of brand safety.

Contextual advertising relies on artificial intelligence to deliver relevant ad content on relevant pages that target the right audience without the use of cookies. Contextual AI works by analyzing and placing ads on editorial pages, ensuring that brands are featured on sites whose content and values match their own.

High-quality journalistic content is considered the most “brand-safe” environment for advertisers, and contextual AI’s deep analysis of articles allows publishers and brands to take advantage of opportunities that they previously may have missed. Contextual AI processes natural language patterns and offers deep sentiment and tone analysis, going way beyond just placing keyword blocks on articles.

This is particularly important in the context of changed consumer sentiment, as brands are no longer expected to keep silent on potentially controversial issues. For example, the survey of European consumers also found that they were more likely to have a positive view of brands whose ads featured alongside content related to Covid-19. This is especially beneficial to publishers who may have previously avoided monetizing content related to the pandemic but with the right adtech partner can exploit the ad opportunities related to it.

Contextual AI is also capable of analyzing images, offering a deep understanding of the entirety of an article. It is able to identify potentially dangerous content such as drugs, nudity or violence, which allows brands to avoid association with content with negative connotations. The AI offers advertisers an environment where their ideas and brand values fit seamlessly into the content of the page.

The challenge of ensuring brand safety is one that marketers will always have to face. However, if these brands are able to leverage new technologies such as contextual AI, they can reach their desired audience while also building valuable trust.


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