Brand Suitability And Brand Safety: The Complete Guide

January 12, 2024
10 minutes

Context does miracles in how we perceive things. Brands are not an exception. 

Imagine your beloved brand shows up on YouTube next to conspiracy videos shouting at you that the Earth is flat. Or that climate change doesn't exist. That's what happened to Samsung, L'Oreal, and Danone back in 2017.

Naturally, these crises brought a lot more attention to so-called brand safety and suitability – marketing efforts aimed at mitigating risks and controlling the context in which ads appear. 

So, how exactly can you prevent such situations, and what's behind brand safety and suitability? 

Bear with us, and we'll uncover: 

  • What is brand suitability and brand safety
  • Differences between one and the other
  • Why brand suitability matters
  • Challenges and best practices

What is brand safety?

Brand safety is all about active efforts to prevent potential negative associations to a brand due to the harmful impact of undesired surrounding content. 

Or, in other words – context that's risky to a brand's reputation in consumers' eyes. 

In online advertising, these efforts are mainly measures to avoid ads showing up next to disinformation, fake news, or content that promotes hate speech or violence. 

L'Oreal ad during a conspiracy video about global warming
Source: Avaaz

Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) defines these core risky content categories: 

  • Adult content
  • Alcohol
  • Hate speech
  • Illegal downloads
  • Illegal drugs
  • Offensive language
  • Violence 

Brand safety example

Different brands have different standards for where they like to advertise depending on the image they've developed (or are developing).

For instance, Apple is so much in control of its brand image that it doesn't let villainous characters on the screen use their devices.  

Is brand safety relevant for online marketing only? 

While brand safety isn't only a concern for online marketing, the era of automated processes shifts the main focus to online ads for most brands. 

Though, there are campaigns like Stop Funding Hate that urge brands to cut off ads in some publications like the GB News TV channel. 

What is brand suitability?  

In comparison to brand safety, brand suitability reflects content's meaning, context, and possible connotations UNIQUE to a particular brand's needs. 

Brand suitability is about finding places that serve you and your brand, going a level up from simply avoiding ad placements next to naturally inappropriate content.

It's normal practice for marketers to maximize brand suitability with the help of adtech platforms by using inclusion and exclusion lists and audience targeting tools. 

Brand suitability examples

  • What's suitable for a healthcare brand will most likely differ significantly from contexts appropriate for an alcohol brand. 
  • Marketers working with luxury watch brands will want to avoid content designed for children and seek content aimed at working professionals. 

Getting the best out of interaction with target audiences goes hand in hand with being aware of a brand's individual image and messaging. 

It's crucial to ensure digital messages appear in the right settings to prevent any risks and reach target audiences.

Brand safety vs. brand suitability 

In general, brand suitability develops from the primary concept of brand safety. 

The main difference lies in brand safety being not specific to a brand, while brand suitability varies based on a particular brand. 

Brand safety vs. brand suitability comparison chart

Brand suitability:

  • Extends brand safety from negative context avoidance to seeking positive context to strengthen a specific brand. 
  • Calls for a more sophisticated understanding of where marketing assets show up, considering aspects like audience demographics, platform, geolocation, and relevant content. 
  • Aims to balance reach and protection per a brand's individual requirements. 

Brand safety vs. brand suitability: practical examples

  1. News sites

Reputable news sites, such as The Wall Street Journal or The Associated Press, can publish in-depth research on global crime stats, including keywords with negative connotations. 

While these keywords might imply risks from a brand safety perspective, it's actually high-quality content that brand suitability would find appropriate. 

Vidabox ad in The Wall Street Journal
  1. Entertainment sites

Entertainment sites can post a review of a detective book that portrays some violent scenes. Again, employing only brand safety measures would prevent ads from being displayed nearby, while from a brand suitability point of view, it can be, in fact, valuable content for target audiences.

What's the lesson?

Word's meaning differs hugely depending on the context of the article. Thus, prohibiting websites based solely on keywords can deprive advertisers of a potential source of revenue and a reputable publishing partner. 

Why brand suitability is more important than ever

The numbers don't lie. 

Brand suitability is a must in your advertising strategy as context is becoming a highly influential factor for customers and how they perceive your business.

Customer trust and affinity are key 

  • Gaining a customer's loyalty is challenging: 43% of consumers have ceased doing business with a brand because they no longer trust it. 
  • The possibility for people to create and distribute their own content is expanding with the availability of new content. User-generated content is large, diverse, and difficult to control, whether someone is publishing a video, commenting, or sharing a meme.
  • 90% of consumers prefer user-generated content over flashy ads and promotional emails. They are more likely to trust what existing customers have to say about the brand. 

The right context means stronger delivery

  • Although 61% of consumers now find internet advertising beneficial, an astonishing majority (82%) believe it's crucial for a brand's advertisements to appear on reliable, accurate, and safe content.  
  • Contextually aligned ads enhance brand awareness by 93% compared to contextually misaligned ads. 
  • The Halo Effect demonstrates neurological proof that an ad's surroundings significantly affect how consumers respond to the ad. 
  • Findings show that consumers view commercials in high-quality web contexts 74% more favorably than the same ads shown in low-quality contexts. 
  • The GumGum Research report shows social media backlash affected 47% of the businesses involved in brand safety incidents. 25% were affected by unfavorable publicity, and 13% lost their revenue. 
  • Nearly 70% of consumers react unfavorably to brands when they appear next to dubious information, lowering the companies' likability and intent, according to studies over the past year.

Precisely, 64% say the brand is threatened to damage its reputation, while 70% wouldn't buy, recommend, or like the brand, which appears in negative contexts. 

How ad context impacts consumers

This study by CHEQ, Magna, and IPG Media Lab demonstrated how consumers' view of the brand remarkably declined across key metrics after unsafe ad placement:

  • 2.8 times decline in willingness to associate with the brand
  • 2 times decline in purchase intent 
  • 4.5 times decline in feeling that the brand cares about them
  • 3 times decline in feeling that the brand is "conscious" 
  • 7 times decline in brand quality perceptions 
  • 0.5 times decline in the chances consumers would recommend the brand

Brands appear more responsible in consumers’ eyes

According to recent data from Harris Poll and DoubleVerify, consumers hold marketers responsible for the credibility and integrity of the information they advertise on. 

The research by CHEQ, Magna, and IPG Media Lab also revealed that many consumers perceive unsafe ad placement as a deliberate endorsement of harmful content. 

They base their opinion telling that:

  • It's distressing that the brand generates profit through disappointment
  • It looks like the brand utilizes shock value 
  • The brand states it endorses the negative content 

Brand suitability challenges 

Eventually, advertisers aim to strike the ideal balance between adhering to rigorous brand safety guidelines and obtaining a decent reach. 

So, what are the main challenges in reaching this goal? 

Keyword blocking as the only strategy 

Safety measures and exclusion lists are efficient in preventing your ads from being displayed in inappropriate environments, that's for sure. 

But if used standalone – it's become clear that plain blocklists can downgrade your advertising strategy. 

Overblocking or using a harsh approach to remove your ads from any environment that includes a blocked keyword without considering its context can limit reach and scale. 


Oracle's study discovered that around 80% of COVID-related content complied with brand suitability guidelines. In another case, their client's blocklist overblocked approximately 33% of the content. 

These examples show how blocklists can result in failed opportunities and wasted ad budgets by restraining their reach and elevating ad costs. 

How brand suitability can help?

Brand suitability brings additional depth by concentrating on both the topic and the context of ad placements. Seeing content through this lens may have a significant influence and level up the pure keyword blocking approach.

On top, brand suitability draws brands to a more reflective approach to the content they place ads next to. As a result, marketers gain more measurement opportunities, leading to increased reach and inclusivity in high-quality content. 

Additionally, it enables publishers to leverage the context provided by brand suitability data for more effective optimization and monetization of their inventory. Of course, with marketers' requirements in mind. 

Brands need to determine who’s responsible

The digital marketing ecosystem is complex and involves a LARGE number of different players. 

As we've seen, it makes it challenging to reach a general agreement on who's responsible for brand safety and suitability. With no clear responsibilities, it's hard to implement and maintain standards. 

The survey done by eMarketer reveals how consumers see who's responsible for brand safety and suitability in different regions. 

  • More than half (52%) of the US survey respondents think that brands are responsible for their safety, 13% say it's media buying agencies, and 11% – ad-tech/demand-side platforms (DSPs).
  • The European respondents find brands and DSPs / ad-tech platforms equally sharing the responsibility for brand safety (31% each).

Either way, brands need to be the key part of the game when it comes to brand safety and suitability. Stakeholders and their responsibilities vary depending on the size of your brand. 

MMA Global suggests these potential internal and external stakeholders depending on the company: 

Internal and external stakeholders for brand suitability

Brands need to find the best moderation solution

It's been challenging to properly automate the process due to the intricacy of content moderation and advertising management. 

Blacklists and blocklists, which restrict content from showing up on pages containing keywords or phrases deemed "unsafe," don't take context, language, or cultural nuances into account, which impacts content safety.

Due to the lack of real-time monitoring, this has mostly placed content moderation in the hands of employees and user reporting. 

Contextual AI, which can read the context rather than merely filter for keywords, has made significant progress in using AI systems for content moderation.

Brand suitability is a complicated issue for marketers, much as brand safety is due to a complex digital ad environment. Because of this, it's challenging to find a comprehensive solution, and many businesses are now having difficulty implementing brand suitability. 

Developing a brand suitability strategy

The very first step before determining your brand suitability strategy should be answering five simple yet crucial questions:

  1. What are my brand's values?
  2. How do we feel about current events happening in the news?
  3. How do we want to represent these values to consumers?
  4. What beliefs do we want to make known to the public?
  5. How do these values need to show up in my media plan?

Knowing your values and image will greatly help you complete the following steps. 

Brand suitability strategy checklist

Brand suitability strategy checklist

How advertising platforms work with brand suitability

Most advertising platforms offer several different brand safety and suitability layers. 

They help to ensure that ads appear in a relevant, brand-safe environment, protecting the company's reputation online.

Let’s explore some of them in more detail by taking Eskimi’s solutions as an example.

Contextual advertising

Contextual advertising, or contextual targeting, is an ad placements’ targeting type when the system buys placements next to selected, whitelisted keywords (as opposed to keyword blocking). 

This can be achieved in two ways:

  • By checking URL keywords – if an URL contains any keyword from the uploaded keyword list, ads will participate in the auction for this impression.
  • By checking site content – before purchasing an impression, the system will crawl the site’s content and search for keywords from the uploaded list.
Eskimi brand safety features

As the title already implies, this solution helps place ads in the right context.


Advertising platforms offer whitelisting/blacklisting solutions to exclude sensitive topics and limit ads to certain categories. 

It means that ads can appear only on previously chosen websites and applications, based on brand preference, and will or won’t appear on (un)wanted placements.

Traffic source content information

In Eskimi, traffic source content information works on two levels: 

  • Category exclusion. To make sure the site is relevant to specific ads, the system checks the information provided by exchanges and/or publishers. Since all placements are categorized, sensitive categories, like adult content, betting, violence, etc., get excluded from campaigns.
  • Pre-optimization based on historical data. This layer allows to either exclude sites and/or apps that performed poorly in the past or the opposite – show ads on sites that performed well.

This specific solution highlights that brand safety and suitability options differ based on the brand.

External tools and services

In addition to in-house solutions, third-party brand safety platforms, like DoubleVerify or The Media Trust, are usually an integral part of brand safety and suitability solutions “package” that help to offer better accuracy. 

In conclusion

Brand safety and brand suitability should go at the top of the priorities list – for brands and the platforms they work with.

Developing a good brand suitability strategy reduces the risk of compromising brand reputation by appearing in unwanted contexts while also embracing premium content and trusted publishers. Sounds like a win-win.

Looking to strengthen you brand safety and suitability? Reach out to the Eskimi team or book a demo – whichever suits you better.

Philip is the CMO of Eskimi. When he’s not busy growing the Eskimi brand, he spends his time with family and playing ping pong.
Philip is the CMO of Eskimi. When he’s not busy growing the Eskimi brand, he spends his time with family and playing ping pong.
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