At the start of 2019, eMarketer predicted that global ad spending would top $300billion for the first time and in some countries, like the UK, digital is the dominant media buying category. Google and Facebook make up about half of total global spend, further diversifying the advertising dance-card with a vast catalogue of user-generated content options, and within that millions of new uploads and hundreds of hours of new content appears daily.

In this environment, brands must put controls in place to manage where and how their ads are placed for two primary reasons. First, brand safety must evolve beyond basic offensive content to include a wider range of suitable and unsuitable content. Second, brands must manage contextual relevance in order to maximise their budget effectiveness.

Redefine brand safety

The definition of “brand safe” is evolving. Brand safety is moving beyond the basic blocking of offensive content to also include elements unsuitable for the brand’s unique image, which include contextual nuances across comedy, music, news, culturally relevant issues, as well as industry-specific no-no’s. Xaxis notes in their brand safety pledge that: “In addition to our basic safety checks, a client may have specific requirements. For example, it is unlikely to be in the interest of a travel client for their ads to appear on pages about plane crashes or ferry disasters.”

Brand safety is a part of this larger strategy, which can be thought of as a “brand suitability” approach. In other words, brands must consider what content is best for their brand, and what content is and is not appropriate.

What’s more, privacy regulations have forced brands to reconsider and update their contextual targeting strategies as an alternative to behavioural targeting, while maximising both scale and  ROI. Not only does a brand want to stay away from unsuitable content, but they should also be looking for ways to harness the rapid-publish rate of major publishers and platforms to target the latest and most suitable content at the same time. Brands are doing this by digging deeper into the content, mining audio-visual and metadata details as a way to build a media plan based on contextual relevance and content-signals as a proxy for the audience. Both blacklists and whitelists matter. Blocking content that isn’t safe or suitable not only protects a brand, it also saves it money from wasted ad spend. Targeting more appropriate content with contextual data can help brands increase scale and see increased ad performance.

2019 resolution: create a “suitable” brand safety strategy

With these two elements in mind, the digital advertising market is ripe for brands to create a more mature strategic approach to brand suitability. Brands spend their money on user-generated content platforms because it works. Now that brands spend a lot of money on social platforms, and have more sophisticated media plans, they must also consider brand suitability as a leading element to those plans. For example, many creators parody children’s shows like Peppa Pig to create comedic videos for adults, which would be inappropriate for a children’s toy manufacturer and contribute to wasted ad spend.

On the other hand, brand suitability’s contextual approach to brand safety can uncover new opportunities for highly targeted content. Craft and art supply companies enjoyed enormous success in 2019 advertising next to videos about making slime, which was a surprise hit with kids and parents. The platforms themselves offer limited levers to uncover, customise or scale this level of targeting, so brands must take charge and partner with those who can.

Focus on video

Video, in particular, is an area where many brands could benefit from an investment in partnerships that can help manage a broader brand suitability strategy and scale profitably. The IAB UK in partnership with PWC found that digital video advertising grew 27% from the first half of 2018 to the first half of 2019, the fastest-growing advertising category in the UK for that time period. 

Brands have an opportunity to solve two sides of the same coin: increase brand safety and suitability while increasing ROI from better ad placements. There are many solutions that can help brands across digital video media planning, buying and campaign management and analytics, creating a positive feedback loop. Whitelists and blacklists created in post-bid siloes without reference to actual ad performance and contextual nuance have limited value. In addition, placement reports which inform brands once the damage has been done are clearly insufficient to manage a proactive, ROI driving, and scalable strategy. To make the most of this opportunity, brands need to breathe life into these controls with other partners that can manage contextual placements proactively, optimizing them both pre-, mid- and post-bid for contextual performance and making the brand suitability conversation about not just content adjacencies but how that actually benefits brands’ bottom-lines.

Take control today

The good news is that brands can control their destiny, even as digital media grows by leaps and bounds in real-time. User-generated content, especially video content, is a ripe opportunity for smart advertisers, but it does require a contextual approach to planning, married to the proper buying and analytical controls. Technology and savvy partnerships can save a brand from wasted ad spend and help increase performance across their media plan; all while keeping a brand both safe and suitably aligned.  

With a proactive approach to brand suitability, brands can successfully direct all partners toward a safer, more contextually relevant media plan.