Context Matters: Amplifying Your Brand Message

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Today, we accept that modern brands invest significant time and resources to create their identity and to connect with their audiences through marketing messages. Digital media is a key component to these efforts, but did you know nearly 1 in 10 digital ad impressions are surrounded by unsuitable or inappropriate content?

If you’re wondering what ‘unsuitable’ content means, or why it matters, let’s take a moment to unpack the role of environmental context, starting with the idea of ‘brand safety.’ On a recent panel, which represented brands, publishers, agencies, and a biometric research company, the participants unanimously agreed that the notion of ‘brand safety’ is about keeping ads away from the types of content that are universally deemed as unsavory.  “No one wants their ad near terrorist violence or explicit adult content, brand safety is the floor,” said one panelist.

In other words, brand safety is about actively working to prevent possible negative associations to a brand due to the potentially harmful influence of undesirable adjacent content.

A given brand’s image may have been carefully crafted over the years, only to be destroyed for a consumer in the milliseconds it takes an ad to load next to the ‘wrong’ content. This damage can spread further in the time it takes to snap a screen grab and post it.

This logic around brand safety is not just a guess—we have the evidence to back it up. Biometric research conducted by Integral Ad Science (IAS) and Neuro-Insight shows that people respond to the entire context surrounding an ad impression rather than just a single component of it. Real-time brain scans revealed that ads that appear next to high-quality content are shown to be more likable than the same ads in low-quality environments.

This is the notion of brand suitability: finding more places that are suitable for your brand in an effort to get better outcomes.

Time to consider not just “safe” but “suitable”

Brand suitability considers the meaning, context, and potential implications of online content, specific to an actual brand’s needs. Brand suitability is about much more than avoiding ad placements alongside obviously inappropriate content—it’s about identifying the places that work for you and your brand.

For example, the content types that might be suitable for a children’s toy brand are likely to be different from those contexts which are appropriate for an alcohol brand. At IAS, we recognize these situations and perceive them to exist on a spectrum, depending on an individual brand’s ethos. It’s more important than ever to ensure digital messages appear in suitable environments, not solely to avoid risk but to also effectively reach the right consumers. Marketers can work with partners to determine what suitability means for their specific brand, aligning their definition with brand values, and actively target these environments.

Neurological evidence proves an ad’s environment has a dramatic impact

We’re leading the charge in the move from brand safety to suitability and our efforts are backed by the latest biometric research. Last year, we released The Halo Effect, which shows neurological evidence that an ad’s environment has a dramatic impact on how people react to the ad. The results showed ads that had been viewed in high-quality mobile web environments were perceived 74% more favorably than the same advertisements seen in low-quality context.

The biometric research demonstrates that people respond to the entire context of an ad impression rather than just a single component of it, generating a very strong positive halo effect for ads that are seen in high-quality environments. Our research reinforces the fact that brand suitability will require a shift from all stakeholders in the industry. Advertisers need to clearly spell out their brand suitability requirements without limiting scale, while publishers should actively work with brands to understand and meet their suitability thresholds.

Industry embraces brand suitability 

The conversation is evolving from the black and white binary focus of brand safety to the more nuanced and bespoke brand suitability. In today’s digital landscape, we are scaling successfully through the likes of programmatic—now we need to focus on quality. The first goal will always be safety, but the close second should be to appear in brand-safe environments at scale and in a suitable context.

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