Don't Go Viral In The Worst Way

By now, you’ve likely caught wind of that epic split-screen showcasing a peppy Applebee’s spot on CNN in the middle of its war coverage. Cringeworthy, yes. Insensitive, yes. Avoidable, yes.

Which is to say that yes, you can protect your brand despite all of the uncertainties created by shifting news cycles and a rapidly changing world.

The answer is a cross-channel solution incorporating a 360-degree, three-pronged approach around social, search and programmatic. Below, we’ve broken things down to provide tactics to eliminate some of the guesswork -- and, most importantly, ensure that your brand is as safe as it can be. 

Hint: It all begins with a really thorough “negatives” list.

First off, paid social. In November 2021, Meta announced new options for topic exclusion and inventory filters across its in-stream video placements. The topics include news, gaming, religion and politics, while the inventory filters include videos by non-partners and live stream placements. In order to ensure that a brand’s ads are not appearing next to sensitive content, advertisers should proactively apply the exclusions that don’t align with brand voice.



Furthermore, although many advertisers use keyword targeting for Twitter ads, they don’t use negative keywords as often -- a major miss. Creating and using a “naughty negatives” list as well as adding contextually relevant keywords adds an additional layer of brand safety.

Next, paid search. Google’s detection of intent has gotten stronger over the years -- and with automated bidding, its machine learning capabilities have made search results fairly accurate. Search Engine Results Pages consistently reflect the current news climate, meaning articles about world events will increasingly factor in. Employing a negative keyword list similar to what you do with social will be your safest bet.

What happens under the search umbrella has expanded significantly in recent years, as there are opportunities beyond the Google Display Network, YouTube inventory and also the latest placement, Discovery. Given the nature of these placements in more native and organic situations, when watching content on YouTube or scrolling the Google app, it’s imperative to have an extensive list of negative placements and keywords to ensure your ads don’t appear outside of context. Though the form of bidding plays a part in where or when your ad may appear, being sensitive to human interest and world events is essential.

Last but not least, programmatic. Using a three-pronged approach, which includes a wide negative URL & App list applied to all campaigns, as well as a two-level brand safety filter applied at the account level and a negative keyword list, will ensure you’ve thoroughly tackled programmatic.

Site lists and browsers: Blocklists for across sites and browsers should consistently include inappropriate content, low-quality sites, known bot traffic and advertiser-specific sites. We advise revisiting this regularly, and then on a monthly basis, reviewing browser and operating systems and viewability URL reports to reveal insights that will allow you to pivot and optimize your campaigns. 

Two-layer brand safety filter: Apply pre-bid brand safety filters using both DoubleClick and Integral Ad Science to ensure you have a second vigilant layer of content categorization across all of your buys. Using this technology removes historically fraudulent sites, IP-based lists and on-page detection, as well as bot vehicles and fraudulent mechanisms. 

Negative keywords: Once again, this list is critical. Exclude negative keywords to ensure that contextually you're able to remove unwanted placements from your activity. Consider languages and markets, while staying informed and flexible.

For example, given recent news about YouTube ads, you might want to consider implementing a host of additional brand safety measures that include additional negative keywords and sensitive subject filters -- including account-level placement exclusions.

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