Suitability and scale should always go hand-in-hand

Lauren Douglass, SVP Marketing at Channel Factory, argues that advertisers should think as much about the content they want to be seen with, as much as that they don’t.

Brand safety is particularly important during a time of crisis. We have heard from several marketers lately that this is especially the case during a time of tension and heightened emotions, as exists today.

There is a common myth that inclusion lists limit scale, especially at the end of a campaign. This narrative is not only not true, it’s actually the opposite. We need to actually stop stating this as it is harmful to the world of brand suitability and perpetuates the idea that brands cannot select the content that makes the most sense for them. There are actually simple steps that can be taken to achieve contextual performance; steps that don’t sacrifice scale for quality.

Actively seek out spots where ads will perform
One key is to focus on inclusion lists as well as exclusion lists. After all, platforms such as YouTube are constantly growing. If you aren’t constantly searching for the best places to position your ads, then you can’t capitalise on trending content. 

So brands should decide what content they want to surround, such as sports, wellbeing or entertainment, and then find opportunities to scale. It’s important to be proactive; a key part of a marketer’s job is to find audiences, after all.

Drawing up such lists can help brands curate brand-suitable, trusted environments to advertise within, built from the constant cycling of inventory through brand-suitability filters. Once these lists are built, however, that’s not the end of the story.

Lists need to be updated throughout a campaign. Otherwise, advertisers keep bidding against the same, static inventory. (This is why a common tactic at the end of a campaign is to remove frequency capping. This is a bad strategy!) What’s more, brands then run the risk of missing out on new, viral, relevant and engaging content. 

The need for always-on optimisation
Contextual performance is rather like a race car with a pit crew, constantly changing the tyres for peak performance, fuelling the car, and making sure it can perform as well as possible. This type of always-on optimisation in the context of ad tech – ensuring that only channels and videos that perform are included, swapping out low performing channels, and finding new videos and channels – is key to making your campaign perform. 

It’s also how it will scale effectively and you will find receptive audiences on mobile – known for their short attention spans, and hungry for engaging content. In this way, when contextual suitability and performance are combined, brands are able to drive scale and improve the overall efficiency of the mobile channel for their business at the same time. The truth is, brand suitability and performance go hand-in-hand.

A shift towards quality placements
This is why advertisers are gradually shifting their priorities from the quantity to the quality of impressions served: the CPM metric only gives advertisers information about the cost of serving a thousand impressions. It does not account for any other checks and balances, such as whether or not the inventory provides a brand-safe environment. Advertisers have long sought more control over where and how their ads appear, and, as such, the buy-side is slowly moving over to qCPM or Quality CPM. This metric only counts when certain quality parameters are met.

Platforms are continually evolving, too. YouTube, for instance, has announced that it is beginning to test a new feature on mobile that will allow users to upload short video clips on the platform; 15-second long multi-segment videos, which is the same length as the default on TikTok. It is also rolling out a new ‘Chapters’ feature, making it easy to skip to where you want to go in a video, rather like a book. Its phone app will trigger a haptic buzz when you’ve arrived at the next chapter.
Advancements such as these lead to rapidly-shifting consumer expectations. It’s never sufficient simply to locate a blacklist and then let the tech do the hard graft, merely assuming your content is brand-safe, contextually relevant, and making the most of the platform on which it resides.

Provide what audiences are searching for
The Coronavirus has spurred consumption shifts, too. Audiences have turned to on-demand media to fill their hours. Recent data from The New York Times showed that YouTube traffic increased by more than 15 per cent at the end of March. Audiences sought how-to videos and in-home workouts, while a recent study we commissioned found that that 80 per cent of US visitors to the video channel during the Coronavirus pandemic also came in search of entertainment and mood-boosters. 

It’s when we drill down in this way, uncovering actionable insights, that we see why contextual intelligence is key to success. You need to know what your audience is looking for and serve it – in the right place. Brand awareness for contextually aligned ads increased by 93 per cent when compared to contextually misaligned ads, according to our study conducted in partnership with the University of Southern California’s Applied Consumer Psychology Department. There is clearly a significant opportunity for brands to target positive and uplifting inventory that is contextually relevant and reflects the content that viewers want to see at this time, whether that’s comedy, crafts or pilates.

So think about a tailored approach that picks out highly valuable pockets of content among broad categories in order to improve the likelihood that you will successfully connect with your target audience. Consumers expect ads to be relevant to the content they’re watching. Our research with the University of Southern California also found, across all industries, a 2.5 per cent improvement for all ad attributes and brand lift outcomes when ads and content were contextually aligned. 

No wonder contextual advertising is emerging as both a smart and effective strategy. And if we need one thing right now, it’s efficient strategies for growth in brand-suitable environments.