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Q&A: Semasio, helping brands and publishers navigate content blacklisting

Semasio is a semantic targeting company based in Hamburg, Germany, that empowers brands to target consumers and pages with one unified strategy. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the company has been working with publishers and brands to help them navigate content blacklisting, especially at a time when readers are more engaged than ever. WNIP caught up with Kornelija Daugalaite, Group Head of Client Development, to find out more…

How are publishers being affected by brands blacklisting keywords associated with the virus from their advertising plans? 

Let’s look at some facts first: 

  • IAS reported that 59% of people are consuming more news, in general, because of the evolving coronavirus news coverage.
  • IAS also reported that “corona” is the most blocked keyword in April, recently surpassing “Trump.” 
  • Buzzfeed reported that one unnamed Fortune 50 brand, which typically spends $3 million advertising its products on news and technology sites, saw its ad blocked more than 35 million times across 100 news sites in 14 countries during March. 
  • IAB reported that 74% of buy-side decision-makers think the coronavirus will have a greater impact on U.S. ad spend than the 2008-09 financial crisis.

The numbers clearly indicate that consumers are currently much more present on publisher sites, especially the news sections, yet most advertisement attempts are blocked due to coronavirus-related keywords being blacklisted. This, paradoxically, leads to brands being unable to reach consumers when they are more engaged than ever and publishers suffering from high volumes of unused inventory and lost revenue.

What can publishers do to combat the spike in blacklisting amid COVID-19?

Publishers are already doing as much as they can since most ad inventory on coronavirus stories is underpriced. It’s more on the buy-side now, with advertisers needing to have more intelligent safety measures in place. It’s not so much about binary brand safety anymore, where you have a set of static and pre-categorized measures, or simply ruling out all the pages that have COVID-19-related keywords mentioned in the content.

It’s rather about the evolution of brand safety into something more individual to the brand, the product or even the marketing message. In fact, the answer is as simple as negative contextual targeting enabling advertisers to specify the exact context, which will be dissonant with their unique marketing message and thus should be avoided. Why use an axe when you can use a scalpel to define the safer and more relevant environment for your brand? 

You say brands should carefully blacklist COVID-19 content with a focus on its context instead of blocking entirely. What are the benefits of doing so? 

Given coronavirus-related keywords are everywhere, blindly blacklisting all COVID-19 content serves no one. Being able to understand the context of a page outside of coronavirus-related keywords enables brands to move away from bucketing all inventory into safe and unsafe based on plain keywords taken out of context, and instead separate the negative context from the neutral or even positive – all depending on specific brand needs.

Negative contexts like new cases or deaths will be inappropriate and will need to be avoided. Others may be informative and educational and thus neutral to use for most brands, while a good proportion will be relevant to show an ad on.

Let’s say your target group of “commuters” are reading an article by the name of “Should I still take the underground to work?” Inevitably, such an article will have coronavirus-related words in the content, but it’s not only okay to show an ad next to such an article, in fact, it might even hit the right nerve at the right time. 

Previously-defined page categories will not necessarily work anymore since new topics (e.g., COVID-19) and behavioral patterns (e.g., quarantine) are overriding everything that had been established before. Being able to adapt to new ways of understanding content and user behavior enables brands to use the available inventory to their maximum capacity and efficiency.

How does Semasio’s Brand Fit Targeting solution solve for the challenges related to COVID-19 blacklisting?

Semasio’s Brand Fit Targeting solution allows advertisers to bring context into their safety measures and define the ad inventory in a precise and transparent way that fits their unique brand needs. We do so by allowing our clients to see the meaning of the keywords they want to blacklist in a context among other significant terms and phrases on the pages, and flexibly define the exclusion criteria.

You can open up to more COVID-19-related content when it does not have such negative connotations and you, as a brand, are less impacted by the situation, e.g., if you are advertising a streaming website, faster internet or a shampoo, it is fine and even makes more sense given the changes in lifestyle of people having to stay home. Or you can choose to avoid even neutral or any COVID-19-related content if you are more limited and it does not fit your needs.

This way we empower brands to decide how strict they want to be in their safety measures, depending on the campaign and the brand.

Thank you.

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