Online advertisers should evolve from 'brand safety' to 'brand suitability'

IAB's inaugural Trust Forum is told that online media needs more sophisticated ways of advertising against the context of content, rather than against blunt instruments like keywords that penalise quality media.

Trust Forum: IAS quoted last year's IAB 'Ripple Effect' study
Trust Forum: IAS quoted last year's IAB 'Ripple Effect' study

Will 2020 be the year that online advertisers should move away from "brand safety" and veer towards the more sophisticated practice of "brand suitability"?

That’s the view of Integral Ad Science, one of the online advertising industry’s most prominent analytics companies. Its managing director EMEA, Nick Morley, addressed the adtech industry at the inaugural IAB Trust Forum in London yesterday.

He said: "Brand safety is often about the non-negotiables, the types of content on particular sites that particular advertisers will find truly objectionable. That safety net will always need to be in place.

"But we need a much more granular set of controls for brands to assess the risk that is applicable to them. The risk for a CPG nappies brand is different from a gaming company. Each of those brands needs to think about contextual intelligence that informs and corresponds to the pages on which they want to run ads."

Overzealous keyword blacklists

Online advertisers have been burned in recent years by high-profile brand safety scandals, such as seeing their YouTube ads inadvertently placed within videos promoting terrorism. However, brands and their media agencies have tended to operate in "overzealous blacklists" in which legitimate content is not advertised against because certain words within them are banned from advertising.

"A gaming brand, telecoms brands, CPG [FMCG] brand; they’re all going to have a very different risk threshold. They need that granular capability to set those unique settings for themselves," Morley (pictured above) added.

Earlier that day, Newsworks’ executive chair Tracy de Groose demonstrated that this was damaging publishers' ability to monetise good content by professional journalists, while brands were missing out on opportunities to advertise against quality media.

"In the current digital model, there is no attention given to the quality and the provenance of content," De Groose warned. "There is little distinction between crafted journalism that adheres to ethical standards and editorial codes, regulators and the law, and bedroom bloggers, amateur producers and the extreme end of harmful content."

In practice, Morley explained, advertisers need to adopt a set of "customisable" risk thresholds in which they set the terms of how suitable certain types of content is and therefore how willing they are to advertise against it. YouTube, for example, has done this with video advertising and has created new parameters for brands to allow against adult-only content such as violent video games clips and 18-rated movie trailers.

To do this, media owners need to provide "contextual intelligence that is going to enable advertisers to discern content", Morley said. "Advertisers will therefore not only be able to negatively target, but also to positively target."

Privacy trumps brand safety as biggest challenge for 2020

Data privacy is the top media challenge of 2020, according to an IAS survey of media professionals released on 21 January. While 44% of those surveyed named data privacy as their primary concern, more than eight in 10 (82%) predicted that context-centric ads would be the biggest media trend of the year. 

Meanwhile, significantly more than half (61%) of media professionals plan to implement campaign ROI evaluation tools, while a similar number (59%) intend to apply viewability measurement.

IAS also found that just over half (52%) of respondents cited targeting the right audience as their top programmatic advertising challenge, with inability to reach desired performance goals coming in second (45%).

However, anxiety around viewability and brand safety appeared to be less of a concern: the report showed those factors are now listed as challenges by only one-third (34% and 32% respectively) of media professionals.

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