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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

What publishers miss about brand safety and corporate values

July 10, 2023 | By Andrew Smith, SVP Product, Publisher – DoubleVerify@DoubleVerify

Publishers need to keep pace with the evolution of marketing. One such evolutionary step has been the emergence of values-based marketing. This approach appeals to consumer values and ethics, and expresses a brand’s values as part of its marketing message.

As just one indicator, the rise of values-based marketing can be measured by looking at the S&P 500 over the last decade or so. In 2011, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) involvement among the S&P 500 sat at under 20% according to the Harvard Business Review. By 2019, that number soared to over 90%. It took only eight years for the overwhelming majority of some of the most influential companies on Earth to embrace a more value-centric marketing approach.

One of the key motivators behind this sweeping philosophical shift is something that’s governed most public-facing company decisions since time immemorial: consumer opinion. According to Accenture, 63% of online customers surveyed around the world prefer companies and brands that share their own values. Our research found that a comparable 69% of customers stated that they agreed with the statement, “Companies that are genuine and authentic appeal to me.”

However, obvious consumer interest and strong advertiser adoption doesn’t mean there aren’t gaps. Brands should consider how all aspects of their marketing strategy might impact their values-based marketing goals–in particular, when it comes to brand safety and suitability.

The connection between brand values and brand safety

Brand safety and suitability controls enable advertisers to reduce reputational risk by avoiding content that might clash with a brand’s desired message, and this can differ greatly from advertiser to advertiser, campaign to campaign. At the same time, brands want to work with publishers that offer a voice and audience that align with their objectives and values–which means looking beyond the individual pieces of content an ad might appear alongside.

But there can be a disconnect between a brand’s values-based marketing goals and their brand safety strategies. This gap creates operational and revenue challenges for publishers as well as hindering advertisers’ ability to effectively reach the right audiences. For example, a brand’s keyword list might include words or phrases that are unintentionally limiting placements next to the content that aligns most with their desired audiences.

Bringing audience and brand values into the brand suitability conversation

As brands put more focus on their values-based marketing strategies, publishers have an opportunity to showcase how they can support those goals and help clients find the right balance with brand suitability. This starts with both sides understanding the available tools and how to work them into an optimized strategy. It ends with informed collaboration around the unique aspects of the particular publisher, brand and audience.

In the keyword example above, the brand might consider transitioning away from a keyword-based approach, which only considers what is contained in the URL-string of a page and not the context, tone or meaning of the content on that page. In most cases, a content category offers more streamlined and comprehensive protection than a keyword list while avoiding the pitfalls of excluding valuable opportunities to reach their target audience.

This points to the importance of building a nuanced and individualized brand suitability strategy that balances brand protection and brand values.

Moving the conversation forward: best practices for publishers

So, what can publishers do? Whether used in programmatic or direct environments, education and advocacy are critical to reaching mutually beneficial partnerships. For example, a publisher might consider asking to be added to an inclusion list if there is alignment between their voice and a brand’s values.

When brands strike the right balance between protection and values, they can reach larger audiences and feel safer spending more. Publishers that are empowered with an understanding of brand suitability tools and how they work can help advertisers align their settings with their values and marketing goals. And that’s a win for everyone.

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