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Brand Safety vs Brand Suitability in 2023: A Q&A with Viant Vice President of Programmatic Strategy Sid Sharma

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Brand Safety and Brand Sustainability

Brand Safety, and growing awareness of the closely-related Brand Suitability, have become hot topics in digital advertising. In fact, some are calling 2023 the year of Brand Safety. 

What’s driving conversations in the industry around Brand Safety and Brand Suitability is the growing need for advertisers to understand exactly where their ads will appear and in what context. For example, a fast-food QSR brand likely does not want their ad near content focused on health and wellness, even if items on the menu are more nutritional.

But what makes Brand Safety and Brand Suitability more pressing in 2023 than in previous years? What’s the difference between the two? And how can advertisers use people-based technology, like Viant’s DSP, to ensure Brand Safety and Brand Suitability today and in the future? 

To answer these questions, we sat down with Viant Vice President of Programmatic Strategy, Sid Sharma.

Q: Before we dive into Brand Safety and Brand Suitability, can you define Brand Safety and provide a short history?

In the context of programmatic advertising, Brand Safety refers to the notion that protecting a brand’s reputation is the top priority and, thus, ads associated with the brand should not be served in environments that could potentially damage the brand’s image. Said simply — and per the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) — Brand Safety is defined as keeping a brand’s reputation safe when advertising online.

The origins of Brand Safety came about in the early days of programmatic advertising because buyers could not always predict where their ad would appear due to Real Time Bidding (RTB) dynamics. To help advertisers tackle the Brand Safety issue, the industry revolved around site lists and private-marketplaces (PMPs) to ensure that ads were served in brand-safe environments. The thinking at the time was to ensure site relevance by serving premium content to control the brand’s image. This approach evolved into pre-bid tools to manage Brand Safety, fraud (bot) detection and viewability. At the same time, other tools to ensure Brand Safety, such as contextual targeting (keyword blocking) started to play a big role, along with stringent data targeting, measurement and analytics. 

Q: What Does Brand Safety Look Like in 2023?

Fortunately, Brand Safety has come a long way since the inception of DSPs in the second decade of the 21st century. Now, sophisticated supply path optimization tools, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Data Lake, clean rooms, etc, play a significant role in helping advertisers ensure Brand Safety. A combination of some or all of the above currently enable Brand Safety success within the industry.

Saying that, while the IAB and other firms have defined industry guidelines, each brand must define its own blueprint for Brand Safety. Why? Brand Safety could mean different things to people, and everyone in the ecosystem (brand, DSP, publishers, data, creative partners, etc,) will benefit when Brand Safety strategies are implemented correctly.

Q: OK, let’s now define the similarities and differences between Brand Safety and Brand Suitability. 

While Brand Safety and Brand Suitability go hand-in-hand, there are differences between the two. 

As mentioned, Brand Safety is ensuring that a brand’s ads don’t serve on unwanted content, and most brands deploy universal tools to keep a brand safe. Brand Suitability, on the other hand, comes down to matching your company’s core values, goals and identity and thus is different for each brand.

For example, a pharmaceutical company may find it suitable for their ad to run on news content related to health and wellness, while an automotive company may find it damaging to their company’s reputation to serve on news content focused on a car accident.

Also, unlike Brand Safety, which provides universally accepted industry-wide blocking tools to ensure ads are not featured in unsafe environments, Brand Suitability relies on market intel, brand profile and positioning, thus creating specific environments for advertising.

Q: As brands look to further ensure Brand Safety and prioritize Brand Suitability, how can People-Based Technology be a partner?

People-based advertising technology enables the creation of a customer profile by combining online and offline attributes that are then utilized to reach the user on any device. The primary objective is to connect the brand with verified real people while identifying the right channels to advertise. It enables the utilization of cross device, cross channel and patented household technologies in a brand safe (and in regulatory compliant) manner by ensuring that ads are served to real people. DSPs with people-based infrastructure can help with Brand Safety by utilizing Identity Resolution-based consumer profiles to serve ads to opted-in real users as opposed to serving on devices or bot traffic. 

Q: Lastly, you mentioned earlier Brand Safety has become easier over the years. What do you see for the future of both Brand Safety and Brand Suitability?

As programmatic advertising becomes more complex, it’s imperative for brands to have a clear vision towards and about Brand Safety and Brand Suitability. While Brand Safety standards could be more universal, it is by no means a “set-it and forget-it” medium. In fact, Brand Safety is a constant process and will always serve an essential role in programmatic ad buying.

Over the past few years, there has been a paradigm shift towards Brand Suitability as brands are taking more control over the solutions that they deploy. The future for Brand Suitability is to identify avenues that appeal to their audience that could have otherwise been missed with current strategies. The goal is, of course, to avoid the vast blocking of entire categories and, in turn, focus on finding the right audiences within those. 


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