Ensuring brand safety is a basic requirement of digital advertising. Now it’s time to consider brand suitability, says Chris Bennett of Pixability.

Brand safety inevitably remains a major concern for marketers. In a recent survey almost half of consumers said their view of a brand would be negatively impacted by ads appearing alongside offensive content, demonstrating the importance of avoiding damaging ad placements.

But marketers are responding positively to the steps major video platforms such as YouTube and Facebook are taking to ensure brand safety. For example, Diageo is testing a return to YouTube advertising after a two-year break, thanks to the platform’s latest brand safety updates.

YouTube continues to invest heavily in both human brand safety teams and machine learning algorithms to flag questionable content, and the platform switched off comments on all video content featuring children earlier this year in response to child safety concerns. At the same time Facebook is enabling advertisers to work with certified third parties to manage brand safety controls, and is introducing new restrictions on video content following the Christchurch attacks.

As the digital giants invest in long-term solutions, the industry conversation is evolving. It is moving past basic brand safety, which TAG defines as controls to “protect brands against negative impacts to the brand’s consumer reputation”, towards brand suitability; actively seeking appropriate advertising environments that will have a positive impact on brand perception and ultimately ad effectiveness.

Companies can take a variety of steps to ensure both basic brand safety and more nuanced brand suitability in video advertising.

Define what brand suitability means

Outside of obvious brand safety categories such as extremist content and hate speech, the definition of suitability is different for every brand. Those promoting alcoholic drinks, for instance, will want to avoid content aimed at children and seek out content aimed at over-18s where such ads are both appropriate and engaging. Marketers can work with partners to determine what suitability means for their specific brand, aligning their definition with brand values, and actively target these environments.

Continually monitor ad environments

Walled gardens such as Facebook and YouTube give advertisers targeted access to vast audiences, but these closed environments do present their own unique brand suitability challenges. Much of the content is user generated, and is created and uploaded at immense speed. Platforms operate to different standards, have different policies on data sharing, and have their own proprietary ad units. To overcome these issues advertisers can work with partners who are experienced in delivering pre-bid brand suitability across these platforms, and post-bid monitoring to ensure ads appear exclusively alongside appropriate content.

Start with premium vetted inventory

There are vast volumes of video inventory online; 500 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every hour alone. This means marketers can be selective, choosing suitable inventory that cuts through the noise and is vetted by both artificial intelligence algorithms and digital professionals. There is plenty of high quality video content available across the major platforms, including YouTube original programming, which will soon be available as ad-supported inventory.

Go beyond the whitelist

While brands may be tempted to stick with whitelisted inventory to guarantee brand safety and suitability, this isn’t always the most effective option. Whitelists don’t necessarily improve brand safety any more than tactics such as content avoidance categories and keyword avoidance, and they can restrict available placements, increasing costs and hurting campaign performance. Using a combination of tactics, as well as monitoring and optimising campaigns in real time, is the best way to ensure brand suitability.

Build suitability scale by activating your customer persona through contextual targeting

High-performing campaigns craft granular media plans and layer up content targeting, specifically built around their own brand’s customer profile. Automotive brands with SUV campaigns will seek content based on young families and outdoor leisure, whereas a luxury automotive brand targets investment, financial news, fine wine and international travel.

Brand safety is, and always will be, a top priority for marketers. By creating brand-specific definitions, using experienced partners to continually monitor ad environments, starting with premium video inventory and using a combination of tactics beyond the whitelist, marketers can move forward to a point where digital video ad placements aren’t just safe, they’re also suitable.