Brand safety technology hasn’t changed in five years, but it’s due for a shake-up

Brand safety technology hasn’t changed in five years, but it’s due for a shake-up

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While brands’ reputations are often built over many years, audience and customer perceptions can change overnight in a fast-changing media landscape. New brand safety risks crop up within swiftly shifting cultural and political contexts, bringing unique challenges and questions around digital responsibility for brands and platforms to navigate. 

From the rise of misinformation around important social topics to brands striving to avoid running ads around political content on credible journalism sites, brand safety risks are constantly in flux with widespread implications for platforms, publishers, advertisers and audiences. 

The context and environments where brand safety issues surface have also evolved. New and innovative platform technologies and algorithms, content formats and ad product types in user-generated content platforms such as TikTok and Facebook are increasingly sophisticated, making management of brand safety risks a constantly moving target. To their credit, platforms have taken significant steps in accountability by leaning into improved transparency controls, updating their available ad-targeting tools and getting proactive with industry efforts on new issues.  

Notably, something that hasn’t changed much in brand safety is the third-party technology solutions available that play a significant part in addressing these challenges. Traditional brand safety tools designed to mitigate brand risks have not kept pace with the emerging platforms, content types and risks over the past five years. 

Many safety measurements and verification vendors still offer traditional keyword and semantics-based tools as the primary approach for addressing brand safety risks. These are tools built initially for ad placements on the open web and designed to crawl text-based pages, identify unsafe words and then block ads from appearing around that content altogether. 

The problem with more sophisticated and dynamic content formats such as video is that keyword blocklists are static and blunt tools unable to interpret the context of a specific placement or given publisher, including elements such as motion and sound. This results in incorrect and wasted ad adjacencies, significantly reduced scale and reach of target audiences and impressions, unintentional content biases and the demonetization of reputable and credible sites with quality content and engaged audiences.       

Even for primarily text-based sites on the open web, a recent Adalytics diagnostic report found that some well-known brand safety vendors were labeling tens of thousands of articles from publishers — such as The Economist, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and more — as brand unsafe based on common keyword blocklists. 

Legacy approaches to brand safety, such as semantic blocking, have also resulted in unintentional biases. This has led to brand avoidance of creators from underrepresented communities, which hurts their monetization. That outcome imperils the creators’, brands’, and the industry’s ability to prioritize improved and equitable advertising.

Given that the only available third-party options for brands to avoid risk are to apply an overly simplistic keyword blocklist that comes with pretty significant trade-offs, advertisers are calling for change. 

A new era of brand safety solutions

The good news is that publishers and platforms have made significant efforts in recent years to improve their content moderation processes and improve platform controls to help build a more responsible future. 

Industry leaders have also come together through organizations such as the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) and the Brand Safety Institute to develop resources that identify, define and standardize risks and strategies that advertisers can proactively employ. In the last few years, the consensus and progress in moving the needle away from blunt safety approaches and toward a more nuanced brand suitability understanding have been a welcome start.  

Recent research by Forrester Consulting, commissioned by Zefr in 2021, reiterated this progress, identifying key areas where additional support and resources for marketer education and adoption will be necessary. The study found that nearly half of surveyed marketers selected “exploring technology solutions to improve suitability” as the number one response when it comes to steps they’re taking to improve their brand suitability strategy. What follows is the need for better-suited and more sophisticated brand safety technology options aligned to this industry consensus.

With audience attention and advertiser dollars increasingly shifting away from the open web and toward the walled garden platforms of Meta, Amazon, Google and TikTok, brand safety solutions in the marketplace must be compatible with these complex platforms to properly audit and verify content adjacencies. Walled gardens must balance the needs of creators, audiences and advertisers. Meanwhile, third-party tech providers can bring specific and focused expertise to provide independent transparency and accountability. 

Marketers and platforms have an opportunity to conduct due diligence and partner with independent vendors that offer the right technology, leaving behind outdated approaches and brand safety strategies. If media investments reflect brand values and advertisers wish to create a responsible digital ecosystem, it’s time to move beyond the brand safety tech of the past and start using verification technology that’s built for the future and not based on previous media rules.

Sponsored By: Zefr

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