For years, the online advertising industry has become so fixated on trends such as ad fraud and ad blocking that equally crucial issues – such as brand safety – have remained on the back burner. That is, until now.
Following the recent revelation that a whole host of household names have inadvertently appeared alongside extremist content, brands and their agencies are suddenly beginning to realize that without careful consideration for brand safety, no one is immune from the potential risks of programmatic advertising.
And travel brands – such as international operator Sandals – are no exception.
Just as travelers cannot always predict the weather forecast prior to their vacation, travel advertisers are beginning to appreciate the challenges of managing their ad placements to ensure optimal brand alignment with surrounding content.
Basic ‘blacklist’ management at site level simply does not work as a contextual brand safety solution.
Today, page level analysis is recognized as the minimum level of control for true contextual brand Safety – but is a basic ‘inappropriate content’ check at the page level enough to safeguard the travel industry?
The answer is simple: every industry, and travel in particular, has its own specific ‘negatives’ that must be avoided in brand communications and can’t be highlighted by simply monitoring for generic inappropriate content.
In fact, according to our data, in a typical demand-side platform environment, an average of 1.7% of ad impressions present a brand safety risk for travel advertisers as a result of standard objectionable content featuring pornography, illegal drugs, alcohol or salacious topics.
When you consider that this equals over 1.8 billion ad impressions over a one-month period in the UK alone, the scale of the problem becomes clear.
But this is just the beginning. In addition to generic inappropriate content within travel, there is plenty of non-standard negative content that also has the power to harm individual brands. The presence of such content can be more widespread than the standard objectionable content and presents an even greater risk of brand damage.
For example, natural disasters (which according to our data accounts for 0.1% of impressions), terrorism (0.8%), and crime (3.4%) all pose brand safety risks.
But once you’ve navigated these areas, can you be sure that you’re completely safe?
Take an article about travelers stranded at an airport – while this wouldn’t be classed as traditionally inappropriate content, it is certainly not the best environment for an airline’s ad campaign to be placed.
So, what measures can travel companies put in place to uphold brand safety and ensure their future marketing campaigns take off?
Bolstering brand safety in programmatic
The simple fact is that consumers will not consider the reasons behind misplaced messaging – i.e. that sophisticated algorithms are responsible for determining many of today’s online ad placements. Instead, they will assume that a particular company is happy to be associated with unsavory content, which can damage a brand’s reputation in an instant – a reputation which may have taken years to establish through careful and consistent communication with their customers.
Programmatic has long been revered by the online advertising industry as it can offer unprecedented scale and efficiency through the provision of a vast pool of premium inventory, but this is no use without brands and agencies having complete visibility into the environment in which their ads will appear – and ultimately – the ability to steer clear of unsafe impressions.
Predominately, ad exchanges and networks rely upon outdated methods of content analysis, such as blacklists (or obsolete whitelists) and keyword filters. But as we have seen in the case of YouTube, these approaches are not sophisticated enough to analyze on-page content with sufficient accuracy to protect brands from the risk of exposure.
Instead, the industry needs to look towards improving brand safety strategies by implementing advanced contextual analysis tools to process data semantically and at a URL-level rather than domain-level. This can be achieved through machine learning technologies such as Natural Language Processing (NLP), which interprets both the words and the wider context in the same way as the human brain, for a much deeper understanding of the overall advertising environment.
Campaigns that keep a brand flying high
In the midst of the growing furore around brand safety, advertisers may be drawn towards the promise of greater quality and lower risk presented to them by premium publishers, in comparison to using an ad exchange – but these premium publishers will still need to be equipped with the right tools to provide brands with the protection that they need.
Trading in this way means that advertisers will lose out on the sheer scale, speed, and cost-efficiencies that they have enjoyed for so long in open ad exchanges. However, open exchanges are beginning to adopt the technology needed to analyze content at a far more granular level to determine the suitability of potential ad placements.
As a result, brands and agencies can find that all-important middle ground between programmatic and brand safety. And all without having to rethink their entire marketing strategy – or reallocate ad spend – in the process.
By making use of intelligent contextual analysis tools, travel brands will gain far greater visibility into their campaigns, and we will also begin to see the industry move away from the reliance on post-campaign optimization – by which time a brand’s reputation may already have been tarnished – towards pre-bid analysis techniques, allowing them to consider the contextual suitability of an ad before committing to a placement.
Of course, despite a growing dependence on intelligent technology to secure the best advertising deals, human input is also necessary to verify potential placements. For travel brands looking to reach the right customers in the right environment, creative marketing expertise and advanced contextual analysis technology should go hand in hand when it comes to launching a campaign.
If anything, recent developments have served to demonstrate just how susceptible even the most well-known brands – including reputable travel organizations – can be to brand safety breaches. However, as marketers begin to entrust their campaigns to reliable open ad networks who are continually refining their content analysis techniques, it won’t just be customers who are sitting back relaxing in vacation mode.