A new approach to brand suitability: It’s time for advertisers to use a scalpel instead of an ax

March 9, 2022 | 4 minute read
Jay Pinho
Senior Manager, Product Management
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Brand safety and brand suitability are top of mind for advertisers, with many searching for new ways to ensure their advertising efforts stay clear of brand reputation risks. In the past, blocklists frequently have been used to avoid dangerous, harmful content. Still, naïve keyword blocklists often sacrifice scale and reach—using a broad stroke to wipe out entire ad environments that may benefit a brand’s advertising goals.

The primary challenge with blocklists is that they fail to allow for nuance, drastically limiting brand suitable ad environments.

In February, my colleague Marc Grabowski, Oracle’s GVP of Global Advertising Sales, was part of the IAB annual leadership meeting, a town hall focused on critical issues connected to brand suitability. The audience included leaders across the adtech landscape: brands, agencies, marketing operations executives, and publishers. While the event was exclusive to IAB members, I had the chance to talk with IAB Chief Strategy Officer Libby Morgan as a preamble to the IAB town hall.

You can watch the recording of our full conversation on brand suitability and the need to use a scalpel instead of an ax, but here’s a quick overview of what we discussed.

The cost of blocklists

As I mentioned during my talk with Morgan, it’s important for advertisers to go beyond basic keyword blocking when approaching brand safety and brand suitability. It is detrimental to your overall advertising strategy to remove your ads from any environments that may include a blocked word without considering how that word is being used within the content.

Oracle’s research found multiple scenarios where blocklists failed to allow for content nuances in recent years. For example, when looking at COVID-related content, we found that nearly 80% of the content actually met brand suitability standards. In another example, we discovered an agency client’s blocklist was over-blocking content by as much as 33%.

Both examples demonstrate how blocklists can cost advertisers missed opportunities and ad dollars, limiting their reach and driving up media prices. Such ineffective tactics impact the whole media ecosystem, creating outcomes that fail both publishers and brands.

Contextual intelligence: Using a scalpel versus an ax

So what’s the alternative to blocklists? First, I think it’s important for advertisers to take a more expansive approach when they consider their brand safety and brand suitability efforts. If you think of brand safety as the baseline, then brand suitability sits atop your brand safety strategy, allowing you to establish a more nuanced targeting approach that works on various levels—a conglomerate level, an individual brand level, or even at the campaign level. Fortunately, the adtech industry has matured to a degree where we now have contextual technology that allows advertisers to set ad targeting criteria by these various levels.

Sophisticated contextual solutions enable advertisers to define ad environments at various levels. They also offer granular and modular views of ad environments. By integrating contextual ad targeting solutions into your overall strategy, you can use a scalpel instead of an ax when determining where your ads show up. Another major benefit: Contextual targeting is future-proof in that it does not rely on user identification, making it a privacy-first solution that safeguards consumer data.

Brands need adtech that expands their reach instead of limiting it

As we move further into a post-cookie advertising ecosystem, brands need adtech solutions that expand their reach and broaden their audiences. The good news is that contextual intelligence, the very same tool that has been used in the past to protect brands from harmful content, can be leveraged to find brand suitable environments that improve campaign performance.

Contextual intelligence, which often costs less than audience segments, enables brands to be more exact in their ad targeting strategy, carving out ad inventories that meet brand suitability standards in a very granular way. It also brings about a more expansive targeting approach. Instead of taking a defensive posture, blocking entire ad environments, contextual intelligence enables brands to find relevant content topics.

Brand suitability isn’t only about staying away from harmful content—it’s about connecting with content that aligns with your brand purpose and values. This positivity-suitability approach gives advertisers a chance to surprise and delight their audience by identifying “just right” content opportunities, a tactic that helps build long-lasting customer relationships.

Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all advertising strategy. When it comes to your brand safety and brand suitability tactics, contextual intelligence is one component of an integrated, layered ad targeting approach. Brands need end-to-end solutions that offer prebid and postbid verification capabilities. They need tools that allow them to reach the right audiences at just the right time without blocking entire ad environments. And once a campaign is in motion, they need to measure and track results to gain insights that will allow them to optimize those campaigns in real-time.

If you’re currently considering improving your advertising strategy, be sure to download our Brand Safety, Suitability, and Responsible Media: A guide for advertisers.

And if you have an extra ten minutes to dive into the challenges advertisers are currently up against when it comes to brand suitable ad environments, watch my full conversation with Libby Morgan: Brand Suitability – can we use a scalpel instead of an ax?

Jay Pinho

Senior Manager, Product Management

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