A simplistic brand safety approach, such as keyword blocking, has been exposed by the current crisis. It’s time to think more broadly about a brand suitability strategy, says Nick Morley.

Brand safety is always a hyper-complex issue for global FMCG companies, which offer numerous brands and product categories across multiple regions, each with their own unique nuances and risk factors. But in the current climate – where brands such as Procter & Gamble and Unilever are seeing unprecedented changes in consumer shopping habits and revising digital advertising accordingly – FMCG companies need a comprehensive and scalable strategy.

Evolving from brand safety to brand suitability

FMCG brands must evolve beyond basic brand safety principles, towards a brand suitability strategy. This approach helps builds brand equity by proactively seeking contextually appropriate environments for their advertising.

Because FMCG companies own so many brands across different categories, they’ll never be able to employ a one-size-fits-all approach to brand safety. Any solution must be customisable and agile enough to adapt to suitability requirements at product level, across multiple geographies.

This is no easy task for FMCG brands. Here we provide three examples specifically for FMCG brands to consider when determining their brand suitability strategy.

1. COVID-19 content

The current climate inevitably requires discussion about the type of COVID-19-related content it is appropriate and suitable for your brand to appear against.

Initially, brands were reluctant to advertise alongside coronavirus news, but not all COVID-19 stories are damaging to brands. Similarly, given 88% of UK consumers are actively seeking news content due to the coronavirus situation, brands should not be broadly applying keyword blocking to related COVID-19 terms. This could significantly limit the scale of campaigns and result in missing engagement opportunities with - highly engaged audience.

FMCG brands can employ a strategy that keeps them away from potentially damaging articles on COVID-19, such as death toll or hospitalisations, and instead allow their ads to appear around content with a neutral or positive sentiment, such as quarantine acts of kindness and community. This approach is particularly important for FMCG companies with health or pharmaceutical brands, with 55% of consumers wanting to see ads for these products alongside coronavirus-related content.

2. Health-related content

As consumers become increasingly health conscious in their shopping habits, FMCG companies face a complex wellbeing-related issue. For example, a brand that sells both bottled water and sugary sodas will need a nuanced approach. Ads for the sugary drinks may need to be kept away from content targeted towards children or teenagers, for instance, and from articles that relate to the sugar tax. Brands will need to tailor their brand suitability approach depending on the product they are advertising, as opposed to one strategy for all.

3. Environmental content

Concerns around climate change and environmental impact are also influencing consumer purchasing behaviour. FMCG brands need to factor these consumer concerns into their brand suitability strategies.

As well as considering the products themselves, FMCG brands must consider all aspects of their sustainability and environmental footprint, from how and where what they are advertising is sourced, through to what it is packaged in. Having this crucial background and understanding, which of course will vary by region, will play a key role in their brand suitability strategy.

It could be the factor that determines, for example, whether their ad appears near emotive images of animals trapped in plastic waste – even if their packaging is actually widely recyclable or made from recycled goods,

Moving forward with brand suitability

Getting brand suitability right is more important than ever and, in the current climate, it can make a huge difference to the success of FMCG companies and their individual brands.

To take into account COVID-19, health, and environmental impact as well as many more, FMCG companies should refine their brand suitability strategies and employ a multi-layered approach. If they are using URL or keyword blocking lists for editorial control these should be frequently updated and refreshed to ensure they are relevant and don’t inhibit scale.

Ideally brands will upgrade to page-level analysis with cognitive semantic solutions to truly understand the context, meaning and emotion of content, enabling more informed decisions around whether to advertise against it or not.

FMCG brands can then set their brand suitability strategy at product level to ensure ads are served in the most appropriate environments to amplify and reinforce their message, while avoiding placements that could potentially harm brand reputation.