Advertising Guest Columns
3 mins read

Shifting gears: from safety to suitability


For anyone who attended the IAB’s first Digital Trust Forum this year, it was hard not to notice the appropriate choice of venue. In the hallowed halls of the British Museum, discussion about trust in advertising fitted well with the historic artefacts – including the Rosetta Stone, whose ancient hieroglyphics may sometimes seem simpler to decode than our complex ad tech industry!

The infamous brand safety concerns of 2017 instigated the ‘crisis of trust’ and sparked a wider focus on contextual risk, resulting in more restrictive security measures, and frustration across both publishers and advertisers. 

Our industry needs a major gearshift. It’s time to stop talking solely about avoiding unsafe content and start exploring how ads can be directed towards contextually suitable environments, on quality webpages.

Hitting the breaks on blocking

The reason why advertisers are focused on upscaling their brand safety efforts is clear. Several studies have drawn a direct line between bad ad placements and harm to brand reputation, as well as consumer relations. The IAS Ripple Effect study found 88% of UK consumers are annoyed by ads appearing in low-quality content environments, with 68% holding brands responsible and 70% ready to stop buying from brands.

Despite their understanding of advertiser fears, however, the strain of overzealous brand safety tools is hurting publisher revenues – particularly keyword blocking. Setting potentially harmful terms to avoid may seem like a simple and efficient way of minimizing risk, but it also limits digital media scope; cutting off valuable audiences, wasting perfectly good impressions, and limiting monetization opportunities. Last year alone, blanket blacklisting cost publishers £170 million.

Such binary defences aren’t helping the buy or the sell side. To accelerate the brand safety journey, both publishers and advertisers need to adopt a more nuanced approach to assessing inventory suitability.

Two-way traffic ahead

Just as links with poor quality content can destroy consumer trust, ads placed next to the ‘right’ content have equal power to boost positive impact. The IAS Halo Effect study shows ads seen in high-quality environments are viewed as 74% more likeable and consumer engagement is 20% higher. And that’s what brand suitability is all about.

Suitability goes beyond the basic brand safety principles by combining security with customization to define what’s best for each brand and allocate budget accordingly. Where blocking tactics rule out any content featuring broad and often outdated terms, such as ‘New Zealand’ or ‘London Bridge’, suitability looks deeper. Once brands have set their safety requirements – threats involving specific types of content covered by standard categories and execution lists – they can define their acceptable level of risk for certain topics and terms, and use custom analysis to assess every placement.

For example, evaluating pages referencing New Zealand to uncover their contextual meaning would differentiate between undesirable content linked to prior terrorist incidents and stories covering upcoming rugby games for the All Blacks that could boost perception for a relevant brand, such as Guinness or Air NewZealand. This suitability-centric ad targeting ensures brands stay away from unwanted associations, yet keeps the door open for more diverse impressions from a greater range of quality publishers.

Presented in the IAB’s freshly launched Content Verification Guide as a new gold standard for advertising, the benefits of suitability aren’t exclusively for brands. By providing granular assessment tools, publishers will no longer be in the dark about what counts as an appropriate placement for specific brands. In fact, they will be able to facilitate the contextual advertising 82% of media professionals now feel is essential and give brands reassurance they can grow while being protected. In other words, shifting to suitability could finally take the industry forward in its mission to rebuild the triangle of trust between advertisers, publishers and technology providers.

Lee Moulding, Head of Platform and Publisher Solutions, Northern Europe, Integral Ad Science

About: Integral Ad Science (IAS) is the global market leader in digital ad verification, offering technologies that drive high-quality advertising media. IAS equips advertisers and publishers with the insight and technology to protect their advertising investments from fraud and unsafe environments as well as to capture consumer attention, and drive business outcomes. IAS is headquartered in New York with global operations in 22 offices across 13 countries.