Can Contextual Targeting Help Brands to Build Trust with Audiences?


In association with Seedtag.

In the wake of challenging global events, Paul Thompson, UK country manager at Seedtag, discusses how context is critical in the industry-wide quest to maximise engagement.

Engagement is everything in marketing. Brands and publishers want to know what attracts attention - and what does not.

But it is dangerous to focus solely on chasing engagement. In the shattered and sprawling media landscape, it is hard to know exactly where reflections of your brand appear. And what they appear next to. Brands need to use their voice. But they must make sure it only echoes into the right environments.

Recent events such as the pandemic and conflict in Ukraine, as well as changing consumer expectations have once again brought brand safety and brand suitability to the front of marketers’ minds. What a brand declares its values to be, versus the actions it takes, has never been so closely scrutinised. Brands are no longer expected to remain silent on social issues, but rather expected to show support for “good” causes and some have even gone as far as to make donations to humanitarian organisations. They are also expected to be highly conscious of where they appear, how they target audiences and where the ad spend goes. All of this means brand safety and suitability strategies today require a lot more nuance.

Applebees’ recent dancing cowboy ad was placed alongside a news report on CNN covering the horrific conflict in Ukraine - sparking a series of advertisers to withdraw from the channel. We saw a similar story unfold on YouTube, where huge brands such as Mars; Samsung; L’Oréal; Warner Bros; and Danon, all pulled spending after the algorithm pinned adverts for these brands against dangerous content - related to violence, terrorism, misinformation and extremist propaganda. The tech giant quickly put in place a series of safety checks and deleted millions of videos using both AI technology and human moderators - but the reputational damage remains. It can be easy to forget that publishers are brands in their own right, and when one is seen to be monetising dangerous content, it tangibly impacts both the platform and the brands it hosts.

Putting change in context

Paul Thompson

Paul Thompson, UK country manager, Seedtag

Technology has opened up a myriad of new channels and ad formats - with quick access to an ever-increasing pool of people. Consequently, we’ve seen what happens when brands don’t control where they end up.

Consumers in both Europe and North America are less likely to purchase from a brand whose ads are placed alongside harmful content, while they are more likely to have a negative view of the brand and the platform hosting it. As such, 70% of European marketers agreed that brand safety was a top priority.

Safety first

Engagement isn’t everything in communication. Context is.

Brand safety will only be assured when a marketer knows that their advertising aligns with the content they appear against - wherever it is. Advertising will always be placed alongside content, so the challenge of ensuring brand safety will never go away.

How we use data is changing in the post-cookie digital era - and the media landscape continues to fragment. Consequently, no human marketer can process the billions of data points necessary to know if they are truly brand safe. But AI tools can.

Contextual advertising uses artificial intelligence (AI) to deliver relevant ad content on relevant pages - targeting the right audiences without the use of cookies. This technology works by analysing editorial pages and only placing ads for brands on sites whose content and values match their own.

State of the art tools can go a step further. They are not only capable of discerning dangerous objects in images such as blades, or nudity, but also harmful situations such as marginality, social protests, or car accidents.

The technology can help publishers, too. High-quality journalistic content is considered the most “brand-safe” environment for advertisers, and contextual AI’s deep analysis of articles allows publishers and brands to take advantage of opportunities that they previously may have missed. Contextual AI goes beyond basic keyword tags to process natural language patterns, and analyse sentiment and tone.

Brand safety was previously often applied as a “blunt tool”, immediately discarding huge amounts of content that would otherwise have been contextually relevant for brands and monetisable for publishers. This has had absurd consequences such as the word “who” being mistakenly blocked because the pronoun was confused with the acronym for the World Health Organisation.

This type of sophisticated analysis has never been so important. Brands strongly benefit from appearing next to the right thing. For example, the survey of European consumers also found that they were more likely to have a positive view of brands whose ads featured alongside content related to Covid-19. It is highly likely the same is true for the brands that positively engage with the crisis in Ukraine.

By leveraging contextual targeting, brands can not only generate a sense of trust from their audiences, but they can also deliver relevant ads while avoiding content with negative connotations.

Engagement is important - but it isn’t everything. Context is the mother of authentic engagement, and technology is empowering marketers to navigate the complex media landscape to ensure their brand appears in the right places.