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The secret to balancing brand safety and reach

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 allowlists and blocklists. While a hypervigilant protective strategy usually works, it’s not foolproof, and it comes at the high cost of diminished reach. 

The trap of thinking in absolutes

There’s a yin and yang quality to the allowlist-blocklist approach. Within allowlisted sites, there may be brand-inappropriate content. And within blocklisted sites, there may be acceptable content with great appeal to audience segments an advertiser wants to reach.

Just about any allowlisted 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 allowlist, an ad appearing with the list slideshow or an article mentioning the list, will be cringeworthy.

Limiting reach

In a 2017 study, more than half of U.S. advertisers asked about using allowlists cited lack of scale as a challenge. Sticking to an allowlist-only approach limits advertisers' opportunities in important ways:

  • Whether or not an advertiser creates a blocklist of sites to avoid, an allowlist serves the same purpose—it puts every other site on an unstated blocklist.
  • The beauty of the internet is that it constantly evolves as new content creators come on the scene, sometimes creating high-traffic buzz within a particular market segment. At best, an allowlist delays an advertiser’s entry. More often, an allowlist that sticks to top-line sites misses out on the chance to be part of a relevant conversation.
  • Due to the dynamic nature of content on the web, even the URLs placed on allow or blocklists have the ability to shift in focus or narrative, which could be scale limiting if not updated frequently.
  • Small and new brands need a different strategy. If major brands buy up premium allowlist inventory, smaller brands are cut out or forced to pay exorbitant rates.
  • While an advertiser may never want its ads to appear on certain sites, there are countless other sites containing a healthy content mix. Those gray-area sites can hold brand-suitable content with high appeal to particular market segments. The blocklist-allowlist approach prevents the advertiser from taking advantage of that appeal.

Making the context shift

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.

Want to learn more? Contact The Data Hotline, www.oracle.com/thedatahotline

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.



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