Programmatic has increased the efficiency and impact of ads, but it has also brought the issue of brand safety to the fore by reducing control over placements. In an age where relationships with consumers are the most valued differentiator a brand can have, intelligent brand safety is paramount. Poor placements with inappropriate content have the potential to jeopardise both a brand’s reputation and its consumer relationships – let alone the resulting impact on performance. Yet despite the prospective hazard, understanding the impact of ad misplacement remains limited.

Even though brand safety should be a major concern for media agencies, detailed knowledge of how to tackle the issue is often inadequate or only reaches as far as basic protection. Even with basic brand safety measures in place – such as blacklists and blocking specific sites and channels – a very real threat remains. With minimal precautions, advertising can still appear next to content that could undermine its message or degrade the brand reputation, as well as significantly impede performance.

So if all vertical industries are at risk of causing brand damage through inappropriate placements, how can advertisers and agencies guard brand safety in a programmatic world?  

Getting to grips with the programmatic risks

In the programmatic environment, ‘inappropriate content’ that rings basic alarm bells should not be the only concern. ADmantX research has shown that standard objectionable content — featuring pornography, illegal drugs, alcohol or salacious topics — is present on an average of 1 to 4% of webpages in a typical DSP environment. This content must be filtered out with a pre-bid solution at URL level to provide basic brand safety.

However, intelligent brand safety is achieved with the protection from non-standard negative content that has the power to harm individual brands or even industries. The average presence of such content can be higher than the standard objectionable content and creates the same, if not increased, risk of brand damage. 

Misplacements depend on the single vertical industry or product type, and as such should be protected. For example, a baby lotion manufacturer may wish to reach parents searching for infant skincare, but what if ads are placed beside content about rashes caused by soaps? Further examples include a display ad for a soft drink being served within a news item about the obesity epidemic; a new medicine promotion placed on a page about bad side effects of another drug; and a new car promotion appearing next to a report on a fatal accident. 

Our studies reveal that the five industries where ads run the highest risk of encountering such negative content, based on the average percentage of inappropriate URLs, are: 

  • Baby product companies (incorporating food and care 10.5-13.3%, toys 10.5-13.5%, and apparel 4.9-7.8%)
  • Soft drink companies (4.5- 7.7%)
  • Smartphone brands (4-6.7%)
  • Pharma brands (4.2-6.4%)
  • Automotive brands (4.5-6.3%)

In these vertical industries the overall brand safety risk is more than double the average risk of appearing next to standard objectionable content. It is clear that for industries and the brands that operate within them, intelligent brand safety is crucial to avoid negative associations. 

Keywords aren’t enough

While most brands know how to protect against exposure alongside the most common forms of inappropriate content, basic keyword filters are no longer enough. Traditional mechanics, such as keywords, are intended to ensure ad placements are appropriate and that ads perform at the highest level. Yet they work on the basis of probability — a major flaw. 

The meaning of any word can shift dramatically depending on its usage. For example, ‘tiger’ can be an animal, a restaurant, a beverage or a retail chain. By failing to delve deeper into the meaning behind words, keyword searches can miss the true context of content, leaving brands at risk of inappropriate placements. Understanding the meaning within content is crucial for brands to fully appreciate the context of placements and maximise the performance of their ads.

Contextual semantic analysis

Brands need more advanced safety measures that can be tailored to their specific product and values to provide more robust assurance of optimal placements. Being able to identify critical content at URL level is the most effective way to avoid ad message misalignments. This is where semantic data can play a key role — enabling brands to target away from specific negative contextual targets.

Semantic technology goes beyond the surface level of the words on a page. It uses Natural Language Processing to understand human speech as it is spoken, analysing sentences to uncover the subtle contextual nuances, which keywords miss. This approach gives brands the ability to steer clear of pages that express negative sentiment towards the brand itself and the industry it operates in.  Keeping all bases covered, semantic technology delivers personalised, all-encompassing protection. 

Negative content associated with specific industries or brands is a significant risk for brands that have invested time and money in honing finely tuned messages. Without a comprehensive strategy to guard against such placements, brands can damage their connection with consumers and lose their market position. To avoid message misalignments, brands need to gain an in-depth page-level view of content, using semantic data to fully understand the context of the page their ads are displayed on.