Keyword Blocking Spells Trouble

April 3, 2020
SCMP Insights
The fear of accidentally associating one’s brand with negative or distasteful content has pushed marketers to use keyword blockers in the interest of brand safety. However, these blockers often dilute marketers’ reach away from quality content creators.

​Is there a middle ground?​


When The Times of London ran its front-page story declaring that some marketers had unintentionally supported terror-related content on YouTube the marketing community began to demand that steps be taken to ensure brand safety was assured when buying audiences programmatically. This is especially true in walled garden environments that typically did not allow buyers to leverage their own analytical tools and have limited third party reporting.

Today, tools like Grapeshot and Integral Ad Science (IAS) are standard for all parts of the supply path. But applying these tools throughout the ecosystem has three major issues:
  1. Each part of the supply path wants to assure their customers that they have the best brand safety practice. Thus, these tools are applied with various degrees of customisation, over and over again, unnecessarily increasing costs to the buyer.
  2. Keyword blocklists are often broad and blunt tools applied to build safety for longtail (small, relatively unknown sites) audience buys, so they cut out large sections of inventory without nuance. This means brands miss out on quality environments with considered and curated content.
  3. Implementing keyword blocklists can massively reduce the scale of the audience available for marketers to buy in quality environments.
Increased costs, reduced scale and lower quality were not the intentions of brand safety measures. But that is where most marketers find themselves today. Publishers also find themselves struggling to monetise important, brand-safe content.

Is Covid-19 brand safe?

Most of the time, for most brands.

But that's not the approach of keyword blockers. If any part of the supply path includes Covid-19 in their blocklist, all articles are filtered out for that brand. That means a publisher can see up to 70 per cent less demand for these articles and a large number of advertisers find it harder to reach their audiences.

The way brand safety tools are set up, they do not make exceptions for quality sites, low-risk terms, or brands that have no objections. They typically apply one rule for all advertisers using the tech and adopt a ‘better safe than sorry’ approach. This may be good enough for longtail sites, but marketers should expect more.

A better way

Brand Suitability is a term that some marketers are using to describe a new and more intelligent way to think about brand safety with publishers. It means removing the traditional blocklists down the supply path and working with a publisher to outline a positive or negative affinity for content. For example, an alcohol brand may wish to avoid parenting content but would be fine around Covid-19.

Applying filters and blocks directly with the publisher allows for a much greater level of sophistication and optimisation while reducing infrastructure costs and opening up new audiences in quality environments.

Publishers should continue to create more sophisticated brand suitability tools that leverage content insights and user data to create better reach. That is precisely what we are doing here at SCMP.