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Brand Safety vs. Brand Suitability

Over the course of 2020, the world saw an unprecedented news cycle from the COVID-19 pandemic to the U.S. Presidential Election. Publishers and advertisers alike faced challenges with how to effectively safeguard a brands reputation and benefit from the surge of web activity.

While web traffic hit record highs with users looking to access critical news content, the world also experienced influxes of hate speech and disinformation. Premium publishers were understandably concerned that they would not be able to take full advantage of this surge in activity due to a rise in brand safety blocking and reduced advertiser spending.

These events highlighted the necessity for a new approach to traditional concepts of brand safety and furthered a shift in the industry conversation from a focus on what content is ‘unsafe’ or should be avoided and what content is suitable for a brand. Evaluating the landscape from this perspective, considering context in addition to topic becomes even more important.

This shift has left many to wonder what the meaningful differences between safety and suitability are.

Safety vs. Suitability: What Is It?

While sometimes used interchangeably, there are subtle differences between the two principles that have a large impact on ad performance, insights and revenue. This is why the differences between brand suitability and brand safety are worth diving into.

Brand Safety
Brand safety solutions enable a brand to avoid content that is considered to be inappropriate for advertising. Brand Safety is generally not specific to a brand or advertiser, but applicable across advertisers. For example, content which promotes acts of violence would not be brand safe for any advertiser, regardless of their specific preferences.

Brand Suitability
Brand suitability is about balancing reach and protection according to a brand’s own unique requirements. Whereas safety is not specific to a specific brand, suitability differs from brand to brand. For example, content featuring a cocktail recipe may be suitable for a technology company, but unsuitable for a family-friendly CPG company. The cocktail recipe does not pose a brand safety risk, and suitability varies from brand to brand.

One could view brand safety as the foundation, and brand suitability as what is built on top of it. But let’s look a little deeper into the rise of brand safety in the digital advertising industry and why a focus on suitability is so important.

Why Suitability Matters

In 2017, after several high-profile incidents, stakeholders throughout the digital advertising industry increasingly recognized the importance of brand safety — for brand equity and ad revenue. In light of increased public scrutiny, the initial reaction of several advertising stakeholders was to implement broad measures to avoid potentially harmful content. One notable measure was to use keyword avoidance, which has potential drawbacks (see more here).

So that problem is solved. Right? Not quite.

While the effectiveness of brand safety measures such as blocklists and exclusion lists cannot be called into question, it has become clear that there are some pressing issues with a reliance on this one tool. Broadly using a blunt approach or over-blocking can potentially exclude high-value impressions and result in limited reach and scale.

In response to these issues, an increasing distinction is being drawn between ‘safety’ and ‘suitability’. Brand suitability introduces more nuance by focusing on both the topic and context of ad placements and analyzing content through this lens can make a large impact. Following a suitability mindset, brands can take a more thoughtful approach to the content they advertise alongside and the result is a more measured way for advertisers to increase their reach and support premium news content. This also helps publishers use context gained through brand suitability data to better optimize and monetize their inventory based on advertiser requirements.

Case Study: How Brand Suitability Makes a Difference

As an insight into the effectiveness of brand suitability, take a look at the case of Vodafone Italia.

As the coronavirus pandemic dominated the global news cycle, Vodafone found a dramatic threefold increase in the rate its ads were being blocked. This spike was caused by high-severity brand safety categories and coronavirus-sensitive keywords. This negatively impacted both the brand and publishers.

Recognizing this, Vodafone took a proactive approach to rethinking their brand safety tactics in favor of brand suitability. Vodafone worked with DoubleVerify to create a strategy that expanded their reach by advertising next to neutral or positive Coronavirus content (like prevention tips and community support) while still avoiding a more narrow set of topics that would have negatively impacted their brand reputation.

Using these brand suitability tactics, Vodafone saw an immediate 49% decline in daily block rate and an increase in campaign performance over the following week.

In Conclusion

Brands covet the attention of consumers that regularly enjoy high-quality content from reputable publishers. Research also indicates that 90 percent of consumers feel that brands are responsible for ensuring their ads run beside content that is safe. Efforts to ensure more suitable online advertising is a mutually beneficial outcome that leads to improved publisher revenue and advertiser campaign performance.

Brand suitability introduces important nuances into the advertising ecosystem — for brands and publishers. Brand suitability offers a strategy for mitigating risk without compromising scale while continuing to fund premium content and trusted news publishers.

The floor of brand safety will still serve an important role in the industry, but media strategies must adapt to encompass brand suitability in order to stay competitive in an evolving digital media landscape. Brand suitability presents an opportunity for publishers and advertisers to collaborate on the shared goals to improve performance.

Contact us to learn more about how DoubleVerify is approaching brand suitability tools for publishers with DV Publisher Suite.