Brand Safety in the Permanent Spotlight

Brand safety is essential for brand image and brand value. If ads are delivered in environments that are perceived as negative or even harmful, (potential) customers may be lost, knows Roland Divos, Country Manager ShowHeroes Austria.


Increasing attention has been paid to the brand safety topic since 2017, when advertisements from major brands and institutions such as Mercedes-Benz, Adidas or Deutsche Bank appeared in terrorist or right-wing extremist environments on platforms such as Facebook or YouTube. Since then, the topic has regularly received media attention, such as through the “stop hate for profit” initiative.


In addition, there has been a change in the way advertisers and brands buy advertising inventory today. The programmatic world, where ads are served in a fully automated manner, brings its own brand safety challenges, making it difficult for advertisers to maintain control over the context in which their ads are served.


The Austrian Brand Safety Report from H2 2020 cites that 86 percent of ads served by the top 100 advertisers from Austria were still delivered in environments perceived to be harmful to the brand. The study was commissioned by the Online-Vermarkterkreis (OVK) and implemented together with technology provider zulu5 and the agency MOMENTUM Vienna. zulu5 and OVK set themselves the task of showing that programmatic advertising frequently appears in advertising environments that are not associated with brand safety. A ranking was created that lists the top 100 brands whose advertising is most frequently shown in brand-unsafe environments.


If nothing else, the unprecedented events of 2020 – from a global pandemic to international protest movements – have once again put brand safety in the spotlight. At a time when the digital advertising industry is also grappling with economic uncertainty, publishers and advertisers must simultaneously wrestle with the challenges of a news cycle dominated for months by complex issues with negative connotations.


These events have led to an industry evolution from Brand Safety to Brand Suitability, giving marketers more precision in controlling ad environments: while Brand Safety relies on keyword blocking, Brand Suitability offers context-based protections that allow targeting of safe inventory that promotes brand building. Delivering advertising media in the right advertising environments should therefore be a top priority in media planning.



In this context, there is growing interest in contextual targeting, i.e., targeting that is tied to the content consumed by the user and not to his or her personal data. At first glance, the principle may seem relatively simple: Displaying a campaign for a mascara on a website dedicated to makeup seems quite intuitive, and this is the principle that traditional media have been implementing since the 19th century.


Transferred to the digital world and its technological possibilities, however, contextual targeting proves to be much more challenging than an ad in a magazine. Not least because contextual targeting uses tools based on artificial intelligence (AI). The latest “deep learning” tools make it possible, based on analysis of keywords on a web page, to understand the context in which those words are used, what links them together, and ultimately what overall message the page is conveying. By linking these keywords to other data on the website, it is possible to build not only a very accurate idea of the context, but also a system of vectors: the latter, which is similar to a neural network, makes it possible to constantly expand the database of keywords analyzed.


From this, it can derive two important elements: First, it can define to which advertising categories (family, health, entertainment, …) the content can be assigned. Second, it can determine to which audience segment the person consulting this content belongs, without using personal data or cookies, it can determine the user’s age group, gender and interests. This is especially beneficial in times of GDPR/DSGVO and cookie death.


This refinement of the advertising environment analysis makes it possible to offer each user advertising content that is more relevant and therefore better received. The AI selects an advertising message that complements the content in a meaningful way, without redundancy or intrusiveness, and without tracking the user in their future browsing. As a result, the campaigns proposed in this framework achieve performances that are about 30 percent higher than those of traditional digital advertising. In the future, these semantic analysis tools will be able to “understand” not only words, but also the concepts developed in video or audio format, offering an increasingly refined understanding of the meaning of each content, while guaranteeing a brand-safe environment.

This article by Roland Divos was published on INTERNET WORLD AUSTRIA on Feb 25th.

Read the German version here.