How marketers maintain brand safety during difficult times

Published on March 27, 2020
blog, insights

This is an unprecedented, uncertain, and unsettling time for advertisers. We’re all adjusting to fast-moving events. For marketers, the challenge now is to find mindful, creative ways to add value and prevent negative associations. That includes protecting brands from unwanted adjacencies in their digital media placements — something that, in times like these, requires a trained eye, critical thinkingsteady vigilance, and fast action.

But it’s also important to be measured in our actions to protect brand safety — and not to just reflexively block all news — a step some brands took in the early days of the current crisis. That kind of sweeping discard of so many pages will unnecessarily exclude some of the most consumed, most trusted, and most valid and brand-suitable content available at a time when distributing the right messages to the largest audiences and supporting quality current affairs journalism is more important than ever. Case in point: last week, 22-30% of ad impressions were alongside content that contained coronavirus or related themes, according to a Comscore news release. 

Taking the Right Steps 

Here are some steps brand marketers can take to strategically implement brand safety without sacrificing premium placements or reach: 

1. Implement Baseline Protective Measures  

First, establish a uniform approach to use across all buying platforms that avoids the most negative stories while allowing for other news content. How? One way to do that is to carefully select the right keywords and phrases in contextual advertising brand-safety tools.  
For example, instead of universally blocking “COVID-19” or “coronavirus,” add terms such as “death tolls,” “crisis,” or “panic” to “coronavirus,” which will allow for placements on other stories that mention the virus but are less negative. 
Marketers should also avoid content that spreads misinformation, for instance, by blocking pages that carry commonly bogus phrases like “miraculous cure.” 
It’s important to consider that a lot of the news inventory on quality publishers is relevant, helpful, and even important to public safety. Consumers are grateful for reliable news and information. A story on ways to avoid contracting the disease can be useful to people and appropriate for many brands. And there may be other stories about Good Samaritans that fit the same needs. 
By finding the right inventory on the right publishers, brands can also do good by financially supporting ones that are doing crucial work at a critical time. 

2. Consider the Publisher, The Platform, and the Category 

Marketers should carefully ascertain which platforms and publishers are most advisable to use and which of them (or content categories within them) might be classified as high- or medium-risk. (Some, of course, will be excluded altogether if they’re found to be rife with false, misleading, or dangerous content.) 
Some platforms may be heavily weighted with certain categories that specific brands want to avoid, like publishers that run negative travel industry content. Sometimes marketers will block finely specified categorysuch as YouTube’s “Health > Health Conditions > Infectious Diseases,” while finding brand-suitable inventory in many other news-related categories. 
Marketers will also want to actively analyze news as it develops, or more likely, work closely with partners who are doing so, then refine and adjust accordinglyComscore announced that they are updating their “Safe From Negative News” segment, which includes custom keywords. Meanwhile, Google’s DV360 has provided new keyword-exclusion lists. 
Trusted partners like Xaxis have also taken measures to quickly apply minimum standards across all campaigns as we carefully monitor and refine our whitelists of publishers. We actively optimize and consolidate our supply path to exclude sources that are a hotbed for fake news. We are also offering custom targeting parameters at the advertiser and campaign levels based on our clients’ and agencies’ expressed sensitivities for their brands’ contexts. 

There are Opportunities 

It’s worth noting that marketers may find new opportunities emerging to reach choice audience segments. Sometimes they can find inventory in programmatic platforms that was previously hard to obtain.  
As Digiday notesas interest in coronavirus has surged, publishers have launched newsletters, podcasts, live blogs, “and even a text-messaging service.” At The Wall Street Journal, the Boston Consulting Group’s Rapid Response Team is the exclusive sponsor of a special section and newsletter dedicated to coronavirus coverage. 
It is also worth noting that the bidding mechanics of programmatic make it a cost-effective channel right now. As consumers spend more time online, the cost per impression is likely to decrease, while still giving us the opportunity to tailor and optimize our campaigns to deliver business outcomes on behalf of our advertisers. 
These are, as we have said, unprecedented times. Adjusting fast and working closely with skilled partners can help marketers find the inventory they need in the environments that are safest and most suitable for their brands. 

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