This perspective originally appeared on AdExchanger on February 19th, 2018.
The digital advertising industry needs to move away from the incendiary headlines toward a more nuanced perspective of brand safety. Marketers should not view the issue as a binary where there are only two clear answers — brand-safe or non-brand-safe — but instead invest in a more sophisticated evaluation of what’s suitable for an individual brand and, by extension, how brand safety drives video campaign performance.
It goes without saying that a video environment that’s appropriate for a Red Bull- or Doritos-owned video may not be the most appropriate context for Prada’s or Disney’s advertising.
But, by and large, most brand marketers haven’t invested the time to define their brand’s individual parameters for contextual appropriateness. And beyond that, what’s appropriate for one product within a brand’s portfolio may not be appropriate for another product. For example, a gaming brand might be comfortable casting a wider targeting net for its shooter titles on YouTube than its family-friendly games.
To make matters more complicated, definitions often differ within brand teams and among their agency partners. Agencies may have looser definitions, given that they’re typically compensated for optimizing for the lowest CPMs. Brand marketers may be more restrictive, and CMOs will have the tightest controls as they try to keep their brand clear of inflammatory headlines.
It presents a complex problem, with a steep learning curve to bring all parties into alignment. But it’s spurring a healthy change in the industry toward quality, wherein more marketers are acutely attuned to what they’re really getting out of their campaigns.
In my experience, strong contextual targeting performs better than audience-based targeting against any KPI, even conversion-based metrics. But high-quality contextual targeting drives prices higher, so marketers also need to define their trade-offs, how much more they’re willing to pay for quality and, in parallel, what their comfort threshold is from a content perspective. Optimizing on cost, and not on important factors such as brand safety and viewability, may seem cheaper upfront, but neglecting these more complex issues will ultimately cost more in the long run.
The brand safety conversation over the past two years has been primarily driven by journalists and publishers, who largely framed it as a YouTube-specific issue. But, of course, this is an industrywide problem, and we must acknowledge the broader implications of brand appropriateness across the web. Open web advertising is rife with pitfalls, fraud and bad actors. Marketers have a responsibility to dive in deeper to fully understand how context can affect their brand’s reputation.
More than 75% of marketers believe that exposure to unsavory content will hurt their brand’s reputation. Rather than assuming, they should turn to consumers to understand how brand-owned digital videos and the context these videos appear against actually shape brand perception. Do consumers make a conscious connection between a video ad and the content it’s served against, even when it’s not contextually relevant? With a million-dollar video ad spend, will a brand’s reputation be dismantled because of one impression on an unsavory video?
By looking to consumers to benchmark brand appropriateness, marketers can verify and measure the real impact of the content they’re advertising against. Understanding and measuring brand appropriateness requires a brand to define its parameters and individual guidelines, while consistently evaluating the impact of context on video performance and brand reputation.
These specifications could change throughout a campaign. Consider a cruise line that’s looking to reach parents: At the start of the campaign, family, travel and cruise videos may be suitable contexts to target against, but following a rival brand’s incident at sea, the brand may want to shift budget exclusively to family content to ensure its videos appear in suitable video environments.
Brand appropriateness — and other key issues like viewability — are stepping stones toward marketers’ real goal: ensuring that media spend is having a significantly positive, measurable impact on business objectives. Marketers must move toward a broader, deeper understanding of ROI while also looking closely at what they’re buying and getting creative in measuring against the outcomes they’re looking for.
In this sense, the doom and gloom surrounding brand safety is in fact a positive shift for the industry. If marketers can consider brand appropriateness as the baseline standard rather than an add-on, they can begin to see the real impact of optimizing against their intended business outcome, and not simply the cost per eyeball.
For more insights on how advertisers are approaching brand safety on YouTube, download our latest white paper, penned by Pixability Founder Bettina Hein.