A display advertising safety net

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brand_security_small.jpgADOTAS EXCLUSIVE — A growing consensus says the Perfect Storm is now upon just about everyone associated with advertising: Budgets are shrinking and CPM prices are collapsing.

Marketers everywhere are struggling with the challenge of doing more with less. They need to drive more recall, more recognition, and more engagement but they have less spend and fewer impressions with which to do it. This has forced some to turn to the Web and away from the more expensive forms of traditional advertising that lack the clear line of sight to ROI inherent to online. That being said, all forms of advertising are in various levels of jeopardy from the recession — and online display is no exception. Is there anything out there that can save display? I’d like to suggest that brand safety can.

So what exactly is brand safety and how can it ‘save’ display advertising?

First, a bit of background. Brand advertisers have been notoriously hesitant to move online; it has been an historically unsafe place for their brand and their message. Although the line of sight to ROI is much clearer than in other forms of traditional media, it has an uncontrolled stigma when juxtaposed with print or television, where the content is strictly controlled and the audience is more clearly delineated. The situation is not aided by the occasional horror stories we read about brands serendipitously finding their ads running alongside undesirable or even inappropriate, profane or pornographic content. As the facilitators of display advertising, online ad networks need to up the safety stakes and clear a path for brands to thrive online if display is to continue its long-term viability.

Brand safety is a term that has emerged to describe an environment where branded advertisers can know exactly (or close to it) what the content on a given Web site is about, so that these branded advertisers can, in turn, make good strategic decisions about whether or not it makes sense to advertise on that site. As basic as it may seem, true brand safety has been surprisingly elusive for many, in the worst cases placing ads from very reputable, branded corporations next to what they would be deemed highly undesirable or inappropriate forms of content as mentioned above.

However, brand safety is about much more than just avoiding certain types of profane or inappropriate content. Its true benefit lies with providing advertisers and their agencies with a much more clear and verifiable way to track the ‘aboutness’ of a given page of content, then enabling advertisers to much more effectively, and safely, match their ads with most relevant inventory available. This not only protects their brand, but it ultimately can drive more highly qualified consumer leads their way. Tactically, the key to creating a truly brand-safe environment for advertisers online is to determine exactly what the page is about before targeting an ad to it.

As has been documented here at ADOTAS and elsewhere, there are several contextual and behavioral advertising technologies which have begun chipping away at ways to essentially provide a more ‘brand-safe’ environment. For example, many advertisers are now deploying Natural Language Processing (NLP) to analyze every pre-impression page in real-time and determine ‘aboutness’. Here, they can target brand-safe ad space, but also have contextual relevance as a welcomed byproduct. Under this emerging scenario, advertisers can now be more confident that their placed ads are highly relevant to the content in which they are displayed. Contextual relevance, in display advertising at least, has long been known as the key to unlocking genuine engagement. And any marketer will tell you that engagement is crucial to a successful campaign.

One positive byproduct of the ongoing recession and virtual Perfect Storm affecting the world of online advertising is that demand for increased accountability has led to a plethora of new technologies now becoming available to pave the way toward better brand safety. Accuracy and brand safety have long been scarce in the realm of display advertising but the market is demanding better. As an industry, we now have some intelligent solutions out there that are illuminating the way forward and creating a clean, well-lit place for brands to move online with their messages. And the byproduct of these technologies only sweetens the display pot through improved engagement.

Christopher Weiss is director of marketing for LucidMedia, a contextual advertising platform and meta-network focused on optimizing display advertising performance for advertisers and their agencies, as well as ad networks and publishers.

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