Why Blunt Brand Safety Tools Halt the Progress of Diversity

By Emma Jowett, VP of Northern Europe, Integral Ad Science (IAS)

The push for a more inclusive and diverse advertising industry is becoming a priority not just for marketers, but for consumers as well – 72% of UK consumers stated in a recent IAS study that diversity and inclusion are important to them.

There has certainly been major strides forward, but this is no time for marketers to rest on their laurels. 78% of UK consumers identified race and ethnicity as a top factor a brand should consider in advertising campaigns, while 69% also picked out gender identity. With this a high priority for consumers, it is vital it becomes a priority as well for advertisers.

Nearly three-quarters of UK consumers agree that diversity is the future of their country. They are willing to make positive steps towards advancing those goals too, with 64% believing that their individual actions have a significant impact in supporting diversity causes.

But true diversity goes beyond representation in creative and in your teams. The communities represented in these adverts need to be reached by these promotions, and the publishers and content they visit supported if there is to be a truly diverse ad ecosystem.

The need for greater inclusivity

Diversity and inclusion can be a contentious subject, so it is unsurprising that many marketers feel the best way to ensure they don’t fall foul of brand safety issues is by avoiding conversations around it.

A recent IAS survey shows that 63% of UK consumers see companies as responsible for the type of content their ads appear next to. It’s clear that misplaced ads can seriously impact the reputation of a company in the eyes of consumers.

With this in mind, it is unsurprising that nearly half (47%) would feel less favourable towards a business whose ads appeared alongside content that opposes diversity and inclusion efforts.

However, keyword blocking strategies that attempt to avoid contentious content can have an adverse effect. These tools often lack true understanding of the content they are analysing, instead blocking all content relating to the keyword selected. For example, in a recent analysis of a top 40 brand’s safety solution, IAS found that it had blocked 1,634 URLs over a six-month period containing LGBTQ+ keywords. However, 94% of the URLs were found to be deemed brand safe by Global Alliance for Responsible Media’s (GARM) framework.

This bluntness can also lead to those publishers reporting positively on diversity and inclusion missing out on ad revenue. Over half (55%) of consumers seek out content related to diversity and inclusion issues. Blocking these audiences negatively affects the entire advertising ecosystem, leaving high quality publishers with less revenue, advertisers with less engagement, and audiences with less exposure to promotions.

Reaching more diverse audiences

This issue clearly demands nuance. Advertisers looking to truly engage diverse audiences need to look beyond keyword-based brand safety tools. Instead they need to embrace brand suitability solutions.

These AI-driven solutions employ cognitive semantic technology to better understand the sentiment and emotion of content at scale. This page-level analysis enables avoidance of negative content and allows for positive articles relating to diversity and inclusion to be targeted. This approach can be tailored to pinpoint specific topics that marketers  may want to avoid.

This means marketers can both avoid inappropriate environments, and better target their audiences. For advertisers looking to reach more diverse audiences, contextually relevant ads can increase ROI. By appearing near content that promotes diversity and inclusion efforts, 55% of UK consumers stated that they would engage with the ad, while 54% said they would be likely to purchase a product.

As an industry we need to continue to strive towards true diversity and inclusion in everything we do – and that includes how we reach consumers. It is clear that advertisers can no longer avoid content on these issues, and in fact, reaching consumers in these environments helps build stronger relationships and drives sales. Moving past legacy brand safety tools, and towards solutions that can understand at a more granular level the nuance surrounding these topics will be vital for marketers helping to create a more equal and diverse society.