On the 22nd of January, the IAB launched their Content Verification Guide to help create a safer online environment, lead the charge on regaining consumer trust in digital advertising and ultimately help highlight how much scale brands are currently losing out on. While brand safety is still as important as ever, we as an industry need adapt our approach to create both a safe online environment and help brands reduce wastage and grow faster.

Research from the Advertising Association has shown us that consumer favourability in advertising is at an all-time low, coming from 50% in the 90’s down to just 25% in 2018. It also shows us that trust and favourability are highly correlated, which means consumers have lost a great deal of trust in advertising over the years. Trust matters, as it can determine whether or not an individual is likely try a brand’s new products or to stay loyal to a brand in the face of disruption from competitors.

Brand safety is key to maintaining trust, particularly in the digital landscape. IAS research from 2019 has shown that just over half of UK consumers will feel less favourable to a brand after seeing brands in low quality environments and 70% would stop using those brands altogether. On the other hand, they also found the ads seen around high-quality content see 30% greater memorability and consumers who read higher quality content are 20% more likely to engage.

Brand safety efforts in the industry thus far has been far more focused on using methods such as exclusion lists or content verification technology to prevent appearance in low quality environments, at the risk, however, of not being able to appear on high-quality content. When users trust the contextual environment, it can improve brand love by 21%, so although there should still be a focus on excluding the negative, we should also look more closely at not excluding the environments with rich potential for ad revenue. The IAB identify keyword exclusion tactics in particular to be a blunt tool that does not account for semantics, i.e. when excluding the word ‘shooting’ from a campaign, advertisers run the risk of missing out on valuable, higher quality content around football or photography for example.

Extensive exclusion lists have led to a huge loss of ad revenue both on publisher side and advertiser side, estimated at $200m per year. Grapeshot, Oracle & Reach have all worked to develop a solution, the latter having come out with their new natural language processing and visual recognition technology called Mantis. In line with IAB guidelines, as an industry we should all move towards a system of semantic analysis versus the current more limiting method of keyword exclusions and content blocking. This can lead to increased revenue from quality contextual environments that may have previously been blocked and increase in brand love and trust which in turn leads to brand growth. Brand safety is still as important as ever, but there is plenty to be gained by moving away from “better safe than sorry”.