We thought brand safety reached an apex of sorts back in 2017. Remember? The public spotlight shined brightly on digital advertising after a spate of brand safety breaches, fraud, and a broader lack of media transparency. Brands had their fill, became disenfranchised about the state of media—even Proctor & Gamble’s chief brand officer, Marc Pritchard, laid down an ultimatum to digital advertisers:
“Clean up your act, or we’re pulling our ads.”
In the years since, advertisers have come a long way, as the wider understanding of brand safety and its implications has increased. Then 2020 hit, and the industry had to throw much of what it knew about brand safety out the window.
2020: The turning point for brand safety
Complexity may well be the epitaph for 2020. The search for simplicity makes sense after a year featuring the global health pandemic, a politically charged U.S. election, Brexit negotiations, and an economic recession. Topics in heavy news and content rotation put advertisers in a constant state of unease.
With advertisers pulling their spend, publishers were left holding the bag, unable to monetize their inventory or maintain ad revenues. Unfortunately, legacy brand safety practices so common to brands and advertisers were at once knee-capping publisher revenue and advertiser campaign reach—a chain reaction that drained the entire industry of revenue.
As we emerge from 2020, one burning question remains throughout the industry, from the boardroom to the trading desk and from brands to publishers:
“How do we monetize news content safely?”
Why news content holds digital advertising’s future
People have flocked online for the latest COVID-19 updates since mid-February of last year. The growth in audiences should have been a boon for publishers and advertisers alike, but the results disappointed. Hyper-vigilant advertisers implemented stringent brand safety measures which left publishers unable to monetize their inventory.
Instead of viewing this strictly as a “publisher problem,” zooming out reveals this is an industry-wide challenge. Over-blocking content inevitably drives CPM prices higher as advertisers have less inventory for bids.
Even as the recovery begins, a lack of talent industry-wide means ad campaigns will be under-resourced, and publishers and newsrooms will have fewer people to create the high-quality content that attracts advertising dollars.
Long story short, everyone loses. That’s what makes the question of monetizing news content so critical.
Adapting to the “new normal”
The news will always have complexities and nuances. Advertisers can get more comfortable with the idea of monetizing news content today, rather than waiting for the return of normalcy. According to GroupM:
“There are simple ways to advertise in news without compromising brand safety, but to avoid hard news, or even bad news, flies in the face of the facts.”
Adapting to fast-paced news cycles requires you do the following:
1. Move to a brand “suitability” mindset
First, think less in terms of brand safety and more in terms of brand suitability. This means moving away from blocklisting with its broad-stroke approach to risk, into a strategy that accommodates the nuance of online advertising.
Every brand has its own risk tolerance unique to their brand and category. For example, a diaper brand and a liquor brand would naturally have differences in what makes content unsafe. Manage these subjectivities and you’ll discover the key to exposing news content more broadly to advertising.
Developing a risk profile and using that to guide your programmatic strategy empowers you to balance the need to maintain campaign scale without sacrificing brand safety.
2. Take back control of the media buy
Adopt a strategy that affords control and transparency. Again, this means moving away from keyword and URL blocklists, and focusing instead on understanding the context of the content surrounding your brand messaging.
Contextual targeting solutions that help reveal the true context of page content provide greater insight into the types of inventory that fill your bid. Adopting this approach helps you improve over time by understanding the types of contexts that drive engagement or uncover new, relevant audiences.
Understanding content deeply means you can confidently bid on news content and mitigate chances of a brand-unsafe article slipping through the cracks. Customizing parameters will empower you to navigate through any news cycle, regardless of the nature of the content.
Change, for a better advertising ecosystem
Whether we asked for it or not, last year gave us the push we need to continue future-proofing our industry. Monetizing news content and its associated inventory will be critical for the health of both advertisers and publishers alike.
As an industry that typically harnesses the winds of change and evolution to all players’ advantage, it’s time to collectively commit to shifting the current paradigm on brand safety and context. The days of avoiding news cycles have come and gone. The days of brands sitting on the sidelines—outdated. For this industry to continue to prosper, every stakeholder is called to rise to the occasion.