Brand safety vs. brand suitability

Current events have forced many to rethink their brand strategies, but what's the solution?

Brand safety vs. brand suitability

Over the last few years the news cycle has been, well, let’s say intense. We don’t need to go over the many events that took place in 2020 and beyond, but suffice it to say that the tough times we’ve all been living through have affected each and every one of us in different ways. 

The seriousness of current events put brands in a tricky position numerous times over the last few years. Of course, business must continue, but cheerfully promoting products often felt in bad taste when the world seemed on fire. This tension led to conversations about brand safety to resurface, which gave way to a lesser-known concept – brand suitability. Today, we’re going to talk about the differences between these two concepts.

What is brand safety?

Brand safety is a solution that is focused on avoiding content that is considered inappropriate for advertising, and has a blanket categorisation approach that is applicable across advertisers despite their vertical. For example, content which promoted pornography or violence would be deemed not brand-safe for any advertisers, and ads would subsequently be blocked from appearing on these sites.

What is brand suitability?

Brand suitability is a more nuanced approach that focuses on finding suitable content for ads based on an advertiser’s specific requirement whilst balancing reach, as opposed to avoiding inappropriate content. Just as an advertiser’s brand requirements will differ from another, so will what they deem to be suitable, meaning a one size fits all approach isn’t possible. For example, an automotive brand featuring next to an article on technology may be suitable for them, but for a fast-moving consumer goods brand that focuses on pet food may not be suitable despite the environment being brand safe. 

Why is brand suitability important?

In 2017, the hands-off approach some advertisers used led to their ads showing up in places that reflected poorly on their brand. YouTube ads were a major part of this problem, with ads running on racist content and even content with links to terrorism. This led to a huge crackdown on which videos YouTube runs ads on, but also highlighted the uncomfortable truth that many advertisers didn’t truly know where their digital ads were running online.

The reliance on a single solution isn’t enough to navigate the ecosystem, and as a result, a blanket approach can leave advertisers missing out on high-value impressions impacting reach and scale. By adopting a brand suitability strategy alongside their brand safety strategy, advertisers can take a more nuanced approach to their content and ad placement. Analysing content in this manner will result in a more tactical way for the advertiser to increase their reach, often resulting in improved campaign performance while also supporting the publisher that matters most to them.

How do I build a brand suitability strategy?

To build a reliable brand suitability strategy, we recommend following these steps…


Define – When trying to define what’s suitable for you, think about these elements in combination with the audience you’re looking to connect with. Ask yourself – what types of content align themselves best with these factors? But also think beyond the obvious. For example, if you’re a telecom brand, your audience may well be consuming technology content. However, homeowner content may also be a consideration when launching a broadband campaign. While you define what type of content makes sense for your brand, also think about what content may not make sense, as this will help to define your brand suitability guidelines. 

Inclusion lists – Once you have defined your brand suitability guidelines, you can use this to create an inclusion list of publishers and YouTube channels that conform to your suitability profile. While exclusion lists are usually the default for filtering out unwanted content, the one size fits all nature of the exclusion list may filter out suitable content.

Market nuances – Think about the markets that you operate in and the nuances between them. Markets laws and legislations around advertising have different standards and guidelines, along with diverse cultural factors which can impact what is deemed appropriate and should be taken into consideration. Ensure you understand the laws of the markets you operate in, while ensuring your suitability guidelines don’t fall short of these legislations.  

Ongoing evaluation – As advertisers grow, so do their brand values, missions, and image. Ongoing evaluation of your brand suitability guidelines will ensure you don’t miss out on the new sites being created that are suitable for you, but also ensure you pivot alongside your business evolution. This can be done by adopting an SPO strategy that balances performance, transparency, and quality. You can learn more about SPO here.

Leverage Technology – Technology vendors such as Double Verify, Channel Factory, and Mantis offer capabilities for distinguishing the difference between negative content that may be unsuitable and positive content that is suitable. Leveraging technologies such as this is essential to building a successful brand suitability strategy, and can help to ensure you maintain and optimise your reach while having a suitable inclusion list. 


Who’s responsible?

It is often debated who the responsibility of brand suitability falls on – the advertiser, or the media partner they appoint to run and manage their campaigns. Research conducted by Harris Poll & DoubleVerify found that 90% of consumers feel that advertisers bear the responsibility for ensuring their ads run on content that is safe, accurate, and trustworthy. 

We believe it’s a two-way street. Advertisers need to clearly define what is suitable and what isn’t, and then hold their media partners accountable for ensuring that this is met. In addition to this, advertisers should look to take control of their supply chain and look to conduct ongoing SPO analysis to leverage their understanding of where their media dollars are going.

In summary, advertisers invest heavily in building and creating their brand image while fostering positive relationships with their consumers. Therefore, it’s crucial that advertisers’ ads appear in environments that are suitable and not just risk-averse. While brand safety will continue to serve an important role within the ecosystem, advertisers must adapt to the industry changes to remain competitive. As such, the need for advertisers to adopt a brand suitability strategy alongside their pre-existing brand safety measures has never been more relevant.

If you don’t know where to start with building your brand strategies, Publisher Collective can help! Contact us today to discuss how we can assist your brand.