Commentary

A Marketer's Guide To Defining Brand Suitability

Any discussion around brand suitability should begin and end with the consumer mindset. Too often, executives think of brand suitability as a relationship between only their brands and the content. They forget that consumers bring certain expectations to the content they watch, and those expectations may affect whether or not it is appropriate for a brand’s message to appear. 

As an example, the excessive profanity that might appear in a music video or a comic routine may trigger a knee-jerk response by a moderately conservative brand. But realize that consumers typically expect there to be profanity in certain types of videos. They know that certain comedians use foul language for effect. So, profanity alone, depending on its context, might not warrant full avoidance. Context and consumer expectations have to be part of the conversation.

As we saw at several points in time in the digital industry, curating a more premium, brand-suitable environment at scale will likely impact rates. Similar to moments of reckoning around fraudulent or non-viewable inventory, ensuring your brand runs in suitable content will create a new normal around scale and cost. This is another reason it behooves marketers to broaden their suitability standards to the extent they can comfortably do so. Enacting wholesale bans on certain types of content—news or gaming, for example—can unnecessarily limit reach and raise the price of impressions. 

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In essence, defining brand suitability, and then applying it to media buys, requires a balancing act among three inventory attributes: safe, scaled, and cheap. Think of it as a variation on the old “good, cheap, fast” conundrum. You can have two. You can’t have all three. 

The devil in the details

With the right foundational understanding in place, marketing teams must then roll up their sleeves and delve into the nitty gritty of the very subjective topic of brand suitability. In defining standards, the goal should be to be able to articulate aversions for each brand within a company’s portfolio according to topics such as those below. Keep in mind that each brand within an advertiser portfolio will likely warrant its own thresholds depending on the target audience and brand identity. 

How many damns make a f*ck? — dig into profanity

As referenced above, the subject of profanity might not be as black and white as many marketing executives think. Occasional use of profanity is often expected within the context of certain types of content, but a brand might want to draw the line when it comes to repeated, excessive use of certain words within a video.

When does a squat become a twerk? — dig into sexually suggestive 

This hot topic isn’t always as simple as porn vs. not porn (though sometimes it is!). Sexually suggestive content can include everything from fitness videos to suggestive body moments (i.e., twerking) to the amount of clothing worn in a video to the context for why someone might be showing skin (i.e., sports bra).

Just a video game or grotesque violent act? — dig into violence

As with the other especially sensitive areas, violence is a broad topic, and brands must delve into the minutia when establishing their policies. Almost all marketers can agree that they want to avoid content that includes disturbing, real-world violence. But what about gaming content? Slapstick cartoon violence? Funny home videos where someone takes a wiffle bat to the groin? Sports content that includes football or boxing? 

Discussing the above concepts with an eye toward creating policy that addresses them all will lead to discussions around popular categories like sports, gaming, news, and kids content — all hugely popular categories representing massive scale on social platforms. Rather than enacting wholesale bans on categories where a portion of content could be questionable, it’s important to unpack each category to better clarify what you’re truly trying to avoid, and then work with experts and technology to execute that policy before impressions run.

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