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Oct'22·Andrés Auchterlonie·2 MIN

Brand safety and brand suitability -  are they different?

Home Brand safety and brand suitability - are they different?

In 2017, technology giant Google came under extreme fire from large brands like Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft and others for placing ads on YouTube videos promoting racist and anti-Semitic content . This resulted in other brands like Starbucks, PepsiCo and General Motors immediately pulling their ads from YouTube. Google also saw brands ramp down the spending on all Google advertising except targeted ads.

According to a 2020 study, 75% of global executives have experienced a recent reputational crisis that could have been prevented. Before online advertising became integral to brands, advertising campaigns were crafted based on viewability and subsequently ROI. The more places you saw the ad, the higher the recall with a direct impact on sales. As online avenues grew, brands too leveraged technology to maximize their reach. 

When it came to digital advertising, it was no longer just about how many times the target audiences saw the ad, but also where the ad was presented, adjacent content, context where the consumer saw the ad and more. This shift gave rise to two frequently used terms – ‘Brand Safety’ and ‘Brand Suitability’.

‘Brand safety’ was the first major focus area for brands in the online world. ‘Brand safety’ is defined as the steps a brand takes to keep its reputation safe when advertising online. This ensures that

all the brand elements deliver a positive message, do not appear in unsafe environments or seem confrontational with other brands in the market. The lack of focus on this foundational element will result in financial losses and reputational backlash. In 2017, brand safety cost YouTube 5% of their top North American advertisers. 

While ‘brand safety’ covered the basic premise of ensuring that an ad does not show up at inappropriate places or videos, it largely relies on primitive techniques like keyword-ban lists and URL block listing. The techniques used did miss out on one big component – ‘context’. This does not cover sites with fake news, extremist content, fraud sites and even relevant sites purely based on keywords. This is where ‘brand suitability’ comes in.

Brand suitability determines if the context in which an ad or piece of content appears is an appropriate fit for the brand that is advertising. Brand suitability is the logical next step in the evolution of brand safety that ensures displaying advertising in the right environment to the right audience based not on keywords, but on context. For example, an ad for a new car would not be suitable for a news article about a car crash. Very recently, CNN was criticized for an ill-timed ad placement of Applebee’s along with the announcement of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This is where brand suitability leads the way.

As consumers become more aware of online privacy, and governments stepping in with acts like the GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act to protect consumer’s private data rights, we’re seeing a shift towards privacy-first advertising. Personal data-driven tools, like third-party cookies, while effective, are viewed as invasive and are being phased out of use. Brands are leveraging technologies like AI to discover new ways to place ads in a way that meet the expectations of consumers while ticking off the checklist for brand safety and brand suitability.

As we move ahead, ‘context’ along with high quality creatives will be the foundation of every ad strategy. Contextual advertising has proven to be the way forward for brands looking to maximize returns while ensuring the brand is perceived positively. The targeting mechanisms have proven to be more advanced allowing brands to focus on creating compelling marketing content. We at Seedtag have been helping brands craft effective advertising campaigns that maximize ROI while ensuring positive brand recall and association.

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