Here’s how to strengthen your brand safety and suitability during the coronavirus pandemic

Search terms relating to the coronavirus are among the keywords that are currently being blocked by marketers the most. Oliver Hülse from Integral Ad Science explains why a good brand safety and suitability strategy should not simply focus on blocklists.

Brand safety and suitability primarily involve identifying suitable advertising environments with a positive connotation.
Oliver Hülse is Managing Director for the CEE region at Integral Ad Science, the world’s largest technology provider for digital ad verification.

How can brand safety and suitability be established without reducing your reach?

Many brands don’t want to be associated with topics such as COVID-19 and are therefore increasingly using keyword blocking these days. However, this approach has a catch: “At first glance, it is understandable that many companies don’t want to appear in such an advertising environment, but it isn’t really practical in reality,” says Oliver Hülse, Managing Director for the CEE region at Integral Ad Science. “Companies that merely rely on keyword blocking quickly experience a major problem in terms of their reach.”

According to Oliver Hülse, in order to select advertising environments that are suitable for your brand, you need a modern brand safety and suitability strategy that doesn’t just focus on blocklists, but also works with semantic analyses: “Luckily, strict keyword blocking with regard to COVID-19 contexts is also not at all necessary. Even during the coronavirus situation, the challenge of brand suitability, in other words placing ads in a brand-appropriate setting, can be successfully tackled by focusing on the context as well,” says the Managing Director of the world’s largest technology provider for digital ad verification.

Brand suitability: why semantic targeting is an important supplement to keyword blocking

The reason: Not everything that is being published in connection with the COVID-19 crisis is perceived as worrisome and negative by potential customers. “Some content actually highlights positive topics, such as tips for working from home and relief efforts, and is therefore suitable from an advertising perspective,” clarifies Hülse. However, he adds that it is crucial to avoid unsuitable placements, for example putting a travel agent’s ad next to coronavirus-related topics. To find the right advertising environments, Oliver Hülse recommends using semantic targeting: “A semantic analysis can identify the appropriate advertising environments and rule out unsuitable placements from the very beginning,” observes the Managing Director of Integral Ad Science. “That cannot be guaranteed with traditional keyword targeting, but rather only with a human-like, semantic evaluation of content. After all, a word can have several meanings.”

“We recommend using semantic targeting because not all coverage of the coronavirus crisis is negative per se. A semantic analysis can identify the appropriate advertising environments and rule out unsuitable placements from the very beginning.”

Oliver Hülse

Contextual intelligence for accurate brand safety and suitability

To achieve a higher level of brand safety and suitability, IAS has developed a special contextual intelligence technology: “This technology allows brands to understand the semantic context of content, the current sentiment, as well as the interest of a user within a fraction of a second, so that the user can be targeted with relevant ads that match the specific context,” explains Hülse. This can be implemented effectively even – and particularly – in the current crisis situation: “In coronavirus times, advertisers can use semantic analysis to accurately place ads exclusively in contexts that are safe despite COVID-19 content and are attracting considerable attention due to their high relevance. A clever campaign can thus boost a company’s image enormously, even in such a crisis,” emphasizes Hülse.

What else can advertisers do to improve brand safety and suitability?

A well-thought-out brand safety and suitability strategy includes a range of other aspects alongside the semantic analysis of advertising environments. Oliver Hülse from Integral Ad Science advises marketers to also consider the following points:

  • Regularly review blocklists: “Companies should keep an eye on the keywords on their blocklist. To decide which words should be on this list, they need to first and foremost ask themselves whether all the keywords on the list currently represent a risk, whether the brand risk has potentially changed, and which keywords should definitely continue to be blocked.”
  • Create whitelists: “We also recommend using whitelists. These should be reviewed regularly as well to ensure that they contain trusted websites. It makes sense to evaluate this list at the same time as blocklists.”
  • Use content-related categories: “At IAS, we additionally work with content-related categories, and each brand can determine the individual risk level of these. They include issues such as alcohol, hate speech, adult content, and violence.”

To accurately align brands with similar content and ensure effective brand safety, a more extensive strategy that goes beyond just keyword blocking should be pursued. A strategy that incorporates semantic solutions precisely identifies suitable advertising environments that are perceived as positive, resulting in an effective increase in reach.