By Giovanni Strocchi, CEO, ADmantX
There is no denying that programmatic now drives the online advertising industry, with latest figures indicating that programmatic advertising accounted for two-thirds of US digital ad spend in 2016. Delivering ads programmatically provides brands with an unprecedented economy of scale, and as such, has become a core element of today’s media plan.
But with fewer and fewer brands choosing to buy inventory directly from media sellers – inevitably resulting in a loss of transparency and control – maintaining brand safety is becoming increasingly challenging for many businesses.
Focus on Brand Safety
The importance of brand safety has escalated in recent years due to several factors. Firstly, the advertising industry has faced increasing pressure to remove brand messages from appearing alongside inappropriate content, as well as ensuring ad placements are not intrusive, and more importantly, relevant to improve the user experience. Secondly, the rapid rise of new “unsafe inventory concept” like the big debate on fake news sites is only exacerbating customer frustration.
Furthermore, the automated nature of programmatic advertising often leaves brands exposed to unsafe ad environments. Earlier this year, there was yet another stark realization among several global household brands, including Mercedes-Benz and Sandals, that their ads were appearing in undesirable environments – for example alongside videos that promoted extremist opinions linked to terrorism, on pages that contained unsavoury content, or aligned with political undertones that did not necessarily reflect their own corporate standpoint.
With all of this adding fuel to the fire, it is time brands explored new ways of maintaining their reputation while playing their part in improving the user experience. So how can marketers continue to benefit from programmatic without compromising on brand safety?
Restoring True Brand Safety
We live in a consumer-driven world where attracting and retaining the loyalty of distracted customers is a feat in itself. Customers tend to take online content at face value and, in most cases, are completely unaware of the intricacies involved in the ad placement process. As such, brands are quickly beginning to realize the negative impact if they become associated with inappropriate content.
It is all too easy for marketers and media planners to become hung up on keywords in a bid to secure the best placements, but traditional keyword analysis is no longer sufficient. Using a simple keyword filter to avoid “pornography” or “violence”, for example, is simply not enough to protect a brand. Likewise, selecting placements based on a keyword alone relies on the probability of that word having the same meaning in several different contexts, but in most cases, it is likely to be ambiguous.
For example, global clothing brand, Gap, could see their ads placed within articles focused on ‘the gender pay gap’ – a topic that has no bearing on retail fashion. Naturally, content focused on employment doesn’t offer the ideal environment to promote a retail fashion brand and resonate with the audience. Worse still, relying on standalone keywords could run the risk of a brand’s advert appearing next to a negative article criticizing the very product it is promoting. For example, an ad for a well-known haircare brand that uses chemicals in its shampoos and conditioners would be completely misplaced if it appeared within an article exploring the benefits of natural beauty products.
Advanced Contextual Analysis
To really understand the needs of an individual reader and tailor ads accordingly, brands need to move away from domain-level categorization and focus on page-level (or URL-level) analysis. But keyword classification is not precise. A reliable advanced contextual analysis – which combines semantic technology and Natural Language Processing (NLP) – must be used to understand and process on-page content just like a human brain would. Cognitive technology can identify far more nuanced language than traditional keyword filters and can fast tailor the selection of the right “safe” context with no mistake. It can analyze the sentiment around the content, evaluate reader response and emotion, and create comprehensive customer profiles along the way.
By accurately determining these content characteristics in real time, advanced cognitive tools allow advertisers to make decisions about ad placements on the spot, creating for each brand in case a “special brand safety category ” without having to rely on post-campaign performance data. This is especially important in programmatic advertising, where placements are made in a matter of milliseconds.
As brand safety becomes paramount, it is clear to see that until now, advances in safety measures have not reflected the advances in programmatic technology. With brand safety on the top of the agenda, marketers should no longer rely on guesswork but instead consider contextual analysis tools that have the ability to match the right ad to the right audience at the right moment – keeping brands both safe and relevant.
Brands can now enjoy the best of both worlds as they take advantage of reliable artificial intelligence to effectively place ads programmatically – achieving efficiency at scale – while at the same time protecting their all-important brand reputation.