Brand Suitability, Keywords, and Coronavirus

By Tony Marlow, CMO Integral Ad Science

14 April By Tony Marlow

As the majority of the world responds to the coronavirus pandemic, people, businesses and entire continents are all navigating the situation in their own respective ways. And while the world has bigger issues at hand, the advertising industry continues to seek guidance on how to best navigate these unprecedented circumstances as we all acclimate to the “new normal” together.

This new reality has both marketers and publishers searching for a refreshed perspective on best practices for brand suitability while maintaining scale for both audience reach and inventory monetization. There is no shortage of misinformation and social media commentary related to this topic right now, so many marketers are looking to understand the facts associated with brand suitability – this blog post serves to provide some perspective on this for a rapidly changing world.

The Word on Keywords

Keyword blocking has played a role in brand suitability for many years, and this solution has now taken the spotlight amid the current global situation. Why is this getting so much attention now? Basically, because the keyword “coronavirus” has shifted from virtually unblocked in December of 2019 to the most blocked keyword globally by April of 2020.

This phenomenon has naturally led industry professionals to wonder about the impact that blocking has on impression volumes. Interestingly, the shift in overall average block rate in the US from full-year 2019 to 2020 year-to-date (to April 7) actually represents no statistically significant change. How can this be, given that there is such a large increase in “coronavirus” blocking? Well, there are at least three reasons that there is no observed growth in overall block rate from IAS tech:

1. Many marketers already use keyword blocking for commonly avoided terms like “death.” It is very likely that their existing keyword lists were already covering content adjacencies that now happen to also include the word “coronavirus.”

2. The commonly applied practice of using inclusion lists, which marketers use to exempt websites from blocking. Marketers apply an inclusion list when they believe that a publisher’s reputation has such a strong halo effect and that they value the associated premium placements more than they value avoiding mismatched content adjacencies. The use of inclusion lists was already very commonplace prior to coronavirus and the most commonly included properties in the US represent the vast majority of monthly internet traffic for news. So this means that a large number of credible news sources are already widely included by IAS clients.

3. The rapidly increasing adoption of cognitive semantic technologies, which are more precise suitability-mechanisms than keyword blocking alone. Brands use this tech to align their ads with the types of content that drive marketing effectiveness based on content sentiment and the semantic context of a page.

Note that just because IAS technology is not driving an increase in blocking, that does not mean this is true for all of our competitors. Also worth noting is that for the current period of time, there are dramatic changes observed in overall impression volumes which vary wildly from category to categoryfor example, advertising related to travel and hospitality has basically ground to a halt across all media and this type of reduction in ad expenditure impacts publisher revenues directly.

Brand Suitability Execution, What Can You do Now (and in the future)?

IAS advises marketers to take a pragmatic approach to brand suitability both now and beyond the current situation. Here are a few things to consider for keeping your brand aligned to content adjacencies that are an effective match with your brand’s values:

Scrub your keyword lists, often! We advise clients to revisit and scrub their keyword list frequently, quarterly is a good rule of thumb. This helps ensure that scale is not restricted by an ever-increasing list of outdated blocked terms. When it comes to keywords, you are looking for the minimum effective dosethat means the fewest number of keywords that deliver the desired result for avoiding content adjacencies that are not a strong match for a given brand.

Use inclusion lists. In the same way that keyword lists should be frequently assessed, inclusion lists should be actively employed and reviewed to make sure that trusted sites are included. It makes sense to assess this list at the same time that blocklists are being reviewed.

Consider content categories. Topics that many advertisers would like to evaluate for appropriateness of fit are already part of IAS’s standard content categories. These make it easy to control for content categories which are commonly evaluated by marketers. Note that IAS offers granular and non-binary control for our content categories, it is not just an ‘all or nothing approach’ with thesedifferent levels of tolerance can be applied for each category. Standard categories include:

  • Adult content
  • Alcohol
  • Gambling
  • Hate speech
  • Illegal downloads
  • Illegal drugs
  • Offensive language and controversial content
  • Violence

Use cognitive semantic technologies. Remember that while keywords might be getting all the headlines, there are better and increasingly popular ways to navigate brand suitability. Cognitive semantic technologies enable marketers to declare the contexts and sentiment that most effectively drive outcomes. This is not only a strong expression of free-market principles by using technology to understand what works best, but it also opens-up inventory that some marketers would otherwise feel uncomfortable buying.

So, brand suitability goes far beyond the application of keywords. When used alone, keywords do not represent a well-rounded strategyrather they are one part of the strategy and can be helpful to mitigate mismatches of ads and content destinations quickly. Going beyond keywords with holistic, multi-faceted brand suitability strategies affords marketers the opportunity to connect with consumers in a thoughtful, appropriate way, with minimal impacts to reach and scale. In this vein, IAS is committed to delivering the best technological solutions for the entire industry. As the world adapts to coronavirus and beyond, staying informed of facts will benefit the overall health of the digital ecosystem.

To learn more, download our practical guide for balancing digital advertising risk and reach during a global pandemic.

On behalf of IAS, I would like to give special thanks to all of the healthcare providers, public safety officials, and others on the frontlines working to keep our communities safe in the midst of the current situation. Thank you and please stay safe everyone!

Download the guide