Why context matters now more than ever for brand safety and suitability

June 25, 2020 | 4 minute read
Text Size 100%:

Amid all the uncertainty, as well as the rapidly changing digital landscape, the concept of brand safety was once again thrust into the spotlight for advertisers and publishers in 2020. Advertisers, increasingly cautious about where their ads might end up, are executing campaigns with more restraint than ever before. Meanwhile, as web traffic surges for news and media sites, publishers aren’t seeing the payoff in advertising revenue. The entire ecosystem has been affected and will likely see changes that last for the foreseeable future.

This increased uncertainty has led to a growing chorus of marketers questioning the limitations of traditional brand safety approaches—such as keyword blocking—while asking what else can be done to reassure clients that their ads won’t appear in unsafe, inappropriate, or tone-deaf environments.

The reality is, brand safety in digital advertising is undergoing an evolution that has been fast-forwarded thanks to recent global events. As marketers seek more control and require more confidence in the contextual solutions they deploy, the legacy brand safety tactics of yesteryear are making way for a more nuanced approach focused on brand suitability.

The challenge with legacy brand safety

When you think of contextual targeting, what comes to mind? For most marketers, it’s legacy brand safety and the following tactics: 

  • Keyword blocking—where content is blocked based on the appearance of a specific, predetermined keyword, either in the URL string or throughout the content itself
  • URL blocklists—where websites are flagged and blocked from an advertiser’s bid due to the nature of the content it publishes

However, these tactics don’t offer the flexibility of customization and control that you need to safely advertise programmatically today. They’re outdated and ineffective. Why? Because keyword and URL blocking rely on a rudimentary interpretation of words to categorize content and the associated inventory as “safe” or “unsafe.”

Also, because of the broad-stroke effect of these approaches, they often lead to overblocking content that is safe or incorrectly categorizing harmful content as safe—meaning that you either leave money on the table and miss out on valuable inventory or increase your risk of a brand safety breach. Additionally, there’s the downstream effect on publishers as they struggle to monetize inventory while covering topical and newsworthy events.

It’s a lose-lose-lose situation.

These tactics, along with the underlying technology, don’t have the capacity to facilitate the inverse of brand safety: actively targeting specific environments and inventory, or brand suitability. It’s like buying a race car and only driving it in first gear—you’re missing out on all the fun.

Why context matters in today's advertising environment

If you want contextual targeting to work effectively—to offer the best protection while opening up new inventory to target—you need to ensure that context is doing the heavy lifting. This means accounting for nuances in language and individual words and understanding how terms and phrases relate to each other on the page.

Words carry different meanings depending on the context in which they appear; and broad, keyword-based blocking tactics don’t account for these nuances. To better understand this concept, consider the words shot or shoot—which most advertisers block due to their association with guns and violence. But there are myriad interpretations and contexts in which these words can appear. For example, photoshoot, flu shot, straight shot, basketball shot. These are all positive contexts that have the valuable inventory you can target, which would have otherwise been avoided with basic blocking and block-listing techniques.












Image: Words have multiple meanings, and accounting for the many ways a word can be interpreted is critical for your contextual strategy.

In the current content and news climate, we shouldn’t be making decisions about what inventory we bid on based on the appearance of a keyword on a page or in a URL. Instead, we need to focus on understanding web pages, videos, audio, and other formats, in their totality. That means understanding words in context and ensuring that the broader meaning of the content is understood.

This allows you to regain control of your campaigns and ad spend, and feeling confident where you were once cautious. True context affords you a deep understanding of how the content ecosystem is evolving, allowing you to see trends emerging that pose risks to your campaigns, and those that offer opportunities.


Above: Contextual Intelligence and brand suitability look beyond specific keywords to determine the true meaning of the page content.

Why context is important in the shift from brand safety to suitability

Brand suitability helps bridge the divide between risk and opportunity by providing rigorous, context-based protections for advertisers. But the most important element is the context itself, without which, no effective brand suitability or brand safety strategy can take place.

Context is the fuel that powers everything. With context, your understanding of content is deep and thorough, ensuring that you can prevent your campaigns from appearing near unsafe, illegal, or inappropriate content, while giving the green light to inventory that is safe and suitable for most advertisers.

So, as you start to think about your shift from safety to suitability, and how you deploy both strategies in market, be sure that the solutions you use are contextually driven . . . and go deeper than surface-level analysis. 


Learn more about how to regain control of your campaigns and ad spend with brand suitability. Download our guide.

Allan Stormon

Previous Post

How much ad traffic is invalid? Moat quarterly benchmarks break it down

Kori Wallace | 1 min read

Next Post

The Pulse: Measuring what matters from TV to digital, how much ad traffic is invalid, and more

Oracle Data Cloud | 2 min read