Time to Think About Brand Suitability, Rather Than Just Safety

by TechFunnel Contributors - January 14, 2020
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TechFunnel Contributors | TechFunnel.com is an ambitious publication dedicated to the evolving landscape of marketing and technology in business and in life. We are dedicated to sharing unbiased information, research, and expert commentary that helps executives and professionals stay on top of the rapidly evolving marketplace, leverage technology for productivity, and ad...

Guest Contribution by Mario Diez, CEO, Peer39

The programmatic advertising era has brought countless stories of big brands appearing alongside less reputable or inappropriate content. Whether it’s propping up pirated content, sponsoring far-right news content, or Kraft and Unilever brands running ads next to pornographic content, technology has led to some moments that advertisers would rather have avoided.

These examples represent easy choices with respect to brand safety. No brands want to be associated with illegal activity, hate speech, or pornography, and the examples above likely pushed the brands to do a better job vetting their media placements. But when it comes to actually reach consumers, it’s not as easy to categorize the rest of the web into “good” and “bad” buckets. Safety is easy to understand. It gets harder for brands and agencies when the nuance around the content comes into play. What might be right for one brand may not be right for others? Therefore, it’s much more important to think in terms of brand suitability, not just safety.

The genius of programmatic buying is that it lets advertisers quickly achieve scale and efficiency, reaching consumers as they travel deep into the long tail of the web. The central idea has always been that a brand’s desired audience was deeply engaged in content outside of the huge sites that ad buyers were aware of. Reaching these audiences in new environments helped ensure brand engagement, and advertisers had the controls to white and blacklist sites.

Brands today are well versed in the value of the long tail. But “value” is in the eye of the beholder. As the industry pendulum swings away from heavy audience targeting and back toward contextual data, this is an important distinction. Many attributes of third-party audiences are already based on contextual data, to begin with. Using contextual as a primary targeting tactic means brands have access to more signals than simply what’s on a page — signals they may not even be aware of right now.

There are many ways contextual signals can be used to determine brand suitability, including:

  • Content assessment

While consumer eyeballs flock to content that gets categorized as “news,” that channel covers a wide variety of stories. As a result, some brands may shy away, due to the potential of having ads run alongside negative articles, such as deaths or disasters. But other brands may find that news is what delivers high ROI, and as a result, steer into the content as much as possible.

  • Sentiment

If a brand is weighing whether or not to buy media around news content, as in the example above, then it helps to have sentiment analysis of the content. This allows brands to capitalize on news content they find suitable, while still ignoring some of the more negative stories.

  • Page quality

Contextual is not simply about the journalistic content of the page, but about the general makeup of the page itself. The total number of ad units on a page is critical when measuring brand suitability. There are brands that may only want to be on pages with one or two units, where they can own the ad space and consumer engagement, and they may be willing to pay a premium for that. Others may find it suitable to appear on pages with four to five ad units. Again, the value is pre-determined by the brand, not by algorithm or buying platform.

The swing to contextual data is opening up a new world of customization for brands. Rather than looking at the online world in black and white, brands and agencies need to spend time understanding the breadth of signals available within a contextual data set. There is nuance to contextual targeting, and the easiest way to leverage it is to think in terms of brand suitability, rather than brand safety.


Mario Diez is the chief executive officer at Peer39, a company that is building the future of contextual advertising.

TechFunnel Contributors

TechFunnel Contributors | TechFunnel.com is an ambitious publication dedicated to the evolving landscape of marketing and technology in business and in life. We are dedicate...

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