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  • Writer's pictureTPA Digital

How to Get Started with Brand Safety

by Lloyd Greenfield, Strategy Director at TPA Digital

This post will explore how brands can get started with brand safety and what they should consider along the way.

The continuously changing nature of the online environment raises a red flag for advertisers, especially when combined with automated buying. Given that there is no one size fits all approach to brand safety and multiple tools at play, where should you start and how can you be sure you have all bases covered?

Define Your Policy

The aim of brand safety is to avoid advertising from appearing alongside inappropriate or illegal content.

Determine what is safe or unsafe for your brand and ensure communication to all relevant parties to enable consistency. Consider that what may be suitable for one brand may not be for another. For example, a gambling brand and a family centric FMCG brand would have very different suitability thresholds.

Tools and Approaches

Common applications consist of exclusion lists, inclusion lists, keywords and content verification technology.

Exclusion lists are composed of URL’s you wish to block from delivering against; inclusion lists are composed of URLs you wish to exclusively include and only deliver against. Exclusion lists should be thorough and incorporate industry flagged URLs such as the IAB/ABC International Spiders and Bots List. On the other hand, pre-defined inclusion lists can be overly restrictive. Therefore, within reason, try to keep them as broad as possible when being applied campaign wide.

Keyword blocking is used to avoid appearing alongside content containing specified words deemed high risk by the advertiser. Blocking will take place regardless of the context the word is being used in, ideally this tactic should be used to compliment other brand safety tools and fill any gaps. This can be a useful instrument for a re-active brand safety strategy in crisis, however the risk associated to the keywords must be ongoingly reviewed as overzealous keyword blocking can be needlessly detrimental to campaign delivery.

There are multiple keyword vendors in the market with varying technologies, it’s vital to understand how your keywords are being classified in order to assess effectiveness of this tool. Some vendors may analyse the words on the webpage, while others analyse the words in the URL. Also consider whether there is any sentiment analysis taking place, i.e. are keywords being taken at face value or is the context the word is being used in being taken into consideration prior to classification.

Content verification offers semantic page analysis, this uses varying methodologies and AI to understand the pages content and context to categorise it appropriately. This technology is used to validate that brand safety requirements are being met, for example no ads serving on the exclusion lists or against selected high-risk categories. It is important to understand your verification partners capabilities (e.g. which formats, environments and languages can be measured) and methodology in classification.

When selecting partners, be aware of industry certifications such as IPSO and JICWEBS who set out and uphold industry standards.


  • Factor in brand safety and the impact it may have right from campaign planning.

  • Brand safety is crucial, however over-cautious application can unnecessarily reduce reach and scale of campaign delivery when context is misinterpreted.

  • Applications should use a layered approach, each additional tool or approach filling a void rather than overlapping another.

  • Continuous review of settings is required across all tools, but particularly to keyword blocking.

  • Consider how brand safety requirements may differ depending on buying methods and their levels of transparency.

  • Work closely with partners to understand their methodology and grasp the best applications of their technology.

Get in touch with us today if you are looking to review your brand safety approach.

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