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Is ‘brand suitability’ a publisher’s biggest advertising advantage?

The NDA Publishing Roundtable in Partnership with LiveRamp: Part Three

Publishers should move on from conversations around brand safety, to those of “brand suitability” in order to frame the advertiser opportunity in a far more positive way.

New Digital Age, in partnership with LiveRamp, this month held a roundtable with senior executives from across publishing in order to map the future of the industry at a time of external change. Regulations, browser changes and the upset from Covid dominated the conversation.

Each, in itself, could spell disaster for publishers, which have borne the brunt of the platforms’ might and an open-web ecosystem dominated by layers of third-party players. Yet each could help publishers climb the value chain as trusted content providers which hold the keys to the customer relationship online. This, particularly if they are able to leverage context with next-generation identity solutions that deliver for both advertisers and audiences.

Tina Lakhani, Head of Ad Tech at IAB UK, Elliot Hemmings, Senior Agency Partner & Telegraph Champion at The Ozone Project ; Faisal Karmali, Senior Director of Business Operations, CNN International Commercial, Bedir Aydemir Head of Audience at News UK and Phil McMullan, Evening Standard Head of Insight and Data joined LiveRamp’s Head of Publisher Strategy Simon Burgess and Nora Schwab, Director Publisher Development UK in conversation with New Digital Age Editor Justin Pearse. It follows the publication of a LiveRamp report ‘Building the Future of Publishing: The Fightback in 2020.

From brand safety to brand suitability – a positive publisher proposition

McMullan says the conversation is moving – and must – from one of brand safety towards brand suitability.

“I’m coming from a news brand lens,” he says. “But if you have professionally curated and regulated content then it will be suitable for most brands and most occasions. With the technology [now available] we can overlay on that sentiment as well.

“It’s a totally different proposition from user generated content and it is good that it is now starting to be recognised by some of the buyers as well.”

Karmali agrees. He says that “safety has such a negative connotation to it”, adding that in some instances up to half of his business’s inventory was being classified as not safe by blunt blacklist blocking tools, despite much of the content being blocked by advertisers having a “positive or somewhat positive” sentiment behind it.

He adds that just switching that single word – safety to suitability – immediately gives the industry a different way of looking at the issue, focusing on premium publishers’ strengths in reaching the audiences that matter with content that counts.

Burgess says it is “almost laughable” that publishers are having to convince advertisers of the value of advertising using content as a way of targeting their advertising when this has been its modus operandi since its inception.

Yet advertisers who would happily sit alongside strong content in print, were often unwilling to do so online.

Context alone cannot be enough to sate advertiser desire

“When publishers moved online, with the open web and social media, advertisers stopped thinking in that way,” he says adding that context is “really good and 100% what publishers should be thinking” but that it alone was not enough to satisfy advertiser need.

He continues: “If we think about the actual mechanics of doing advertising online, advertisers want to be able to target audiences in some way, they want to take their customers that they know and them online and be able to send them a message – you can’t do that if you don’t know who they are.”

Another issue is the need to be able to frequency cap, something that context, right now, is unable to give. “The final piece is also, if you do want to measure advertising effectiveness, and measure against individuals, the only way is through having a robust identity framework in place.”

It’s indicative of the more proactive stance that publishers are taking in all parts of their business, according to Aydemir. “A lot of the stuff we have done in the past year or two could almost be seen as sticking plasters or workarounds to try and fulfil what the OMP ended up becoming,” he says.

Hemmings concurs, suggesting that being able to use ‘sentiment’ has helped open out The Telegraph’s inventory. “Sentiment allows you to account for nuances in language and individual words. It helps you to understand how terms and phrases relate to each other on the page. Words carry different meanings depending on the context in which they appear; and broad, keyword-based tactics don’t account for these nuances.”

How the chaos of COVID has proved an innovation boon

He says that as the COVID pandemic escalated The Telegraph was able to open up more of its inventory by overlaying positive sentiment against the stories that previously would have been blocked.

“With COVID, we’ve seen a huge growth in audience numbers and page views, but we were at the mercy of broad keyword blocking tech. Thankfully, there have been some fast developments in this area and lots of positive conversations with clients. All helping to open up more highly-engaged, premium audiences for brands.”

Moving towards a more equitable online future

For Karmali, there is impetus for publishers to not cede control as they have. “We have to bear in mind that targeting until now has been policed and controlled by third parties, and we’ve seen that with the COVID keyword blocking,” he says. “It’s not a new problem but it has shown their [the third parties] weaknesses and blindness.”

Lakhani points to a piece of work the IAB did last year, culminating in its Content Verification Guide, “which honestly, we could just as easily have called our Brand Suitability Guide – because that’s exactly what it’s about,” she says.

She continues: “We had a really interesting town hall where we heard from different sides of the industry talk about their position on the use of third parties for brand safety. The conclusion we ultimately came to was it comes to collaboration, with your partners, including intermediaries.”

She calls on advertisers to work closely with their technology partners in order to implement the solutions they choose better, ensuring they are privacy compliant, transparent and trusted by all sides.

In doing so, publishers can hope to redress the imbalances a cookie-based ecosystem forced upon them.

As McMullan says of the year ahead: “I think there is a power balance change happening between the platforms and the publishers. It may only be slight, but after the platforms have got so powerful over the past decade, having a more equal relationship going forwards would be a positive thing for everyone.”

Read part one here and part two here.

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