Brand Safety: Why keywords should not be blocked prematurely

Especially in times of Corona, brand safety is an important topic for advertisers. Alex Savic from Teads Switzerland explains how keyword blocking gives away reach and users and endangers a free media ecosystem.


Even though there is a lot of uncertainty in the advertising market these days, one thing should be certain: trust in quality journalism and in its serious reporting. It is more important than ever to provide people with relevant information and to nip fake news in the bud. Advertising is one of the central ways to support this system.

However, many advertisers currently completely refrain from placing ads or exclude certain keywords without exception. The main reason for such behavior is the concern about possible damage that the brand can take with a placement in a brand-unsafe environment. However, these concerns are rather abstract in nature. In practice, the concern is unjustified if a suitable brand safety strategy is set up and competent partners are involved.

Two interesting questions now arise: Who defines which content radiates negatively on brands? And what is considered 'negative'? Detached from generally inappropriate topics such as drugs or weapons, advertisers and brands usually define their very own tolerance level with regard to religious or political content, for example. First of all, the values held by the brands play a role, as do the expectations of the target groups.

This definition no longer seems to apply. Currently, everything that has to do with keywords around Corona or Covid-19 is blocked. An immature brand safety strategy that primarily relies on hard blocking of keywords is never advisable - and especially not now.        

Because when we look at the current situation, we see - actually - more opportunities than risks. Currently, more people are using the Internet and consuming digital content. According to an analysis by Teads quality news websites are seeing a huge increase in readership, with total visits rising sharply across a range of categories. The strongest increase of 64% on average is seen in topics that cover basic needs, as Teads' Media Barometer shows. However, if advertisers operate a blacklisting according to the watering can principle, they give away a huge potential, reach and exclude a variety of highly interesting target groups.


The right brand safety strategy

Studies show that advertisements in "hard" editorial environments (professionally researched content on current topics) perform better than in "soft" (entertainment topics). The explanation is that the brain is more actively involved in the reader of hard news and therefore the probability increases that key messages remain in the memory. Yet another reason not to completely avoid current relevant topics (environments).

With the right partners, advertisers can develop a suitable brand safety strategy that guarantees brand safety as part of a multi-stage process and at the same time means no loss of reach. The appropriate environment can already be determined relatively well through cooperation with premium publishers. In the premium environment, for example, it is also ensured that one's own ad does not appear in the context of user-generated content and thus possibly of fake news. For the best possible strategy, however, all parties involved should always work with further measures and standards for quality assurance. Certain topics such as crime, violence, drugs, terrorism, hate speech and other obscenities should be filtered by default.

Additionally, a custom keyword list that is entirely brand focused is advisable. However, blocking keywords alone is a rather blunt tool that does not consider the context and consistently excludes content. That's why the use of algorithms that not only read out the context but also evaluate it in addition is important. Regular monitoring of the campaigns additionally supports the developed strategy.


Be careful when excluding keywords

In an analysis of traffic flows, Teads found that consumption of health-related topics increased by 22 percent in March. As explained at the beginning, quality journalism and serious reporting is more important than ever, which is why "Corona" should not be blocked entirely as a keyword, but only articles that are rated negatively in this context.

Such an approach naturally also applies to topics beyond the current Covid 19 issue. With the fundamental exclusion of keywords, users are not only excluded, but even discriminated against. An example: If advertisers block the word "lesbian", they are very likely to exclude large parts of their target groups from targeting, such as people from the LGBTQ community. This is discrimination on the one hand, and wasted (revenue) potential on the other. Another example is the word "sex." Just because that term is dropped in an article doesn't mean the text or environment is inappropriate. The evaluation of the context is crucial.


Brand safety as an ongoing process

In addition to the measures described, it is also important to see brand safety and the development of a suitable strategy not as a process that is set up once and then continues as it is, but rather to evaluate and optimize it on an ongoing basis. If brands block too much content due to keywords that are too general or phrases that are too broad, this is also to the detriment of publishers, whose monetization base then shrinks. This in turn impacts the entire media ecosystem. Large publishers may be able to compensate for this, but for smaller publishers it means that they produce less content and achieve smaller reach. The consequence: the media ecosystem is thrown out of balance.

* Alex Savic is Managing Director at Teads Switzerland.

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