Login is restricted to DCN Publisher Members. If you are a DCN Member and don't have an account, register here.

Digital Content Next logo


InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

How marketers and publishers can collaborate for success

May 11, 2020 | By Jim Egan, VP, Global Strategic Sales – IAS@integralads

In the current environment, the brand safety and suitability tactics used by advertisers are prompting debate within the industry. Many marketers, themselves impacted, are adjusting their strategies, halting or reducing investment, and tightening their risk tolerance. The result has caused a ripple effect across the publishing industry that underscores the vital role that advertisers play in supporting a free and independent press. Our society is dependent on high quality, factually sourced journalism. And the outlets producing this information are essential to keeping our public both safe and informed. 

Advertisers, concerned about appearing adjacent to COVID-19 content, may resort to highly restrictive brand safety practices. Publishers, in turn, are concerned about the balance between editorial integrity and the bottom line.  Here’s how both sides can align:


Publishers should seek a direct dialogue with their agency and advertiser partners. It is imperative that lines of communication are open. It is also important that buyers clearly establish and convey their brand’s suitability strategies and concerns. Mutual understanding of a brand’s perspective will open up opportunities for buyers to leverage the unique combination of content and audience engagement that only a premium publisher can provide.  


Education and communication are first and foremost right now. We’re in a climate of misunderstanding when it comes to the strategies that brands and agencies are employing.  Fundamental knowledge of the varying technologies, how they’re applied, and most importantly, how that aligns with the content where advertisers want their ads to appear is paramount. 

For example, keyword blocking has been a part of the brand safety narrative for years. And It has been thrust into the spotlight amid the current crisis. Industry professionals now wonder about the impact of overblocking on impression volumes. And there’s understandable concern about how this type of approach can affect publishers. 

Keyword blocking has value if used in careful moderation. However, it’s important to remind advertisers that the practice is just one piece of the puzzle. Advertisers should frequently revisit and scrub keyword lists to ensure that scale is not restricted by an ever-increasing list of outdated terms. Another valuable reminder for advertisers: use whitelists. In the same way that keyword lists should be frequently assessed, whitelists should be actively employed and reviewed to make sure that trusted sites are included. 

Content categories are a great way to ensure that advertisers aren’t approaching brand suitability binarily. Instead, they must evaluate topics for appropriateness with different levels of tolerance. Finally, the increasing use of cognitive semantic technologies will also benefit publishers. By enabling marketers to only advertise in contexts that align positively with their brand values and allowing for greater flexibility, this technology opens up valuable opportunities to connect with consumers that might otherwise have been lost due to standard blocking practices 


Verification technology is a powerful tool and has come a long way in the last decade. With solutions now leveraging machine learning and contextual, semantic technology, marketers can now elevate brand suitability strategies to reach consumers in thoughtful, appropriate ways without alienating publisher partners. 

The shift toward cognitive semantic technologies, specifically, paired with increasingly sophisticated machine learning models provides marketers with greater flexibility. This allows for more nuanced, nimble approaches to address brand suitability. Contextual targeting works by taking a deeper look at the content on a given page and assessing its suitability based on the topics covered, whether the tone is negative or positive, and which emotions are conveyed. Evolving verification technologies help marketers protect their brands from unsuitable content. They also grant them the flexibility to reach consumers in the right places without limiting scale and negatively impacting publishers.  


In times of uncertainty, it’s common to see marketers react reflexively and conservatively, with rapid adjustments in strategy. Although this approach is understandable, it bears potential side effects for publishers who see unexpected decreases in advertising. Technological advancements only help when publishers and advertisers bridge the gap and collaborate. 

Recent initiatives, such as the 4A’s APB Brand Suitability Working Group for Trusted News Environments, have marked an effort by industry members to take further steps toward collaboration in hopes of aligning all players toward common goals. Anyone can understand that marketers want to avoid content that’s unsuitable for their brand values. But working together is necessary to underscore the importance of premium news and a free press.   

Liked this article?

Subscribe to the InContext newsletter to get insights like this delivered to your inbox every week.