A steady parade of brand-safety nightmares has cast dark shadows across the programmatic environment, causing brands to retreat to the safety of stringent URL whitelists and blacklists. While a hypervigilant protective strategy usually works, it’s not foolproof, and it comes at the high cost of diminished reach.
There’s a yin and yang quality to the whitelist-blacklist approach. Within whitelisted sites, there may be brand-inappropriate content. And within blacklisted sites, there may be acceptable content with great appeal to audience segments an advertiser wants to reach.
Just about any whitelisted site can occasionally contain inappropriate content for a brand. Consider the case of a car manufacturer with a model that appears on Forbes’s annual “New Cars to Avoid” list. While the Forbes site reaches an ideal demographic for new car buyers and will likely be included in the car maker’s whitelist, an ad appearing with the list slideshow or an article mentioning the list, will be cringeworthy.
In a 2017 study, more than half of U.S. advertisers asked about using whitelists cited lack of scale as a challenge. Sticking to a whitelist-only approach limits advertisers' opportunities in important ways:
Advertisers are conditioned to think at a somewhat concrete URL level, while users operate at a highly fluid page level, ebbing and flowing through the internet. A site visitor might hit a single URL page within thousands, sometimes with no clue what the rest of the site is about, before moving to a page with a video on a similar topic on a different site, and then veering off in a new direction.
It’s all about context for the site visitors—the interrelated conditions going on within and around them right now. Brands that appear in contextually relevant environments have an increased chance of capturing audience attention. Interestingly, brands that implement a context-based targeting strategy can simultaneously develop a context-based, brand-safety approach to improve safety and increase reach.
The key is to work with contextual partners that operate with the same fluidity, page-detail focus, and present-time awareness as site visitors. Brand safety is as much about avoiding sensitive materials as it is ensuring that your brand messaging is surrounded by relevant content.
About Jessica Reid
Jessica is on the marketing team at Oracle Data Cloud where she applies her extensive programmatic and digital knowledge to educate and inform the market about audience, context and measurement.