September 26, 2020


In a world where nearly everyone is always online, there is no offline.

From Brand Safety to Brand Suitability

Brand Safety cartoon

Brand safety has been high on marketers’ agendas since the 2017 YouTube crisis, when some advertisers found their ads next to terrorist videos.

Yet the blunt tool response that followed has brought its own problems.  Many brands started addressing brand safety with overly broad keyword blacklists that can penalize legitimate content and make it harder to find audiences, limiting reach and engagement.

Tracy De Groose, CEO of UK Newsworks described the situation this way:

“You might think that the longer the list, which can be feature up to thousands of words, the greater the rigor on it. But that’s not the reality. Innocent phrases are getting impacted by a black-and-white approach to block lists. Therefore, safe content is being redefined as not safe.”

Or, as CNN’s Rob Bradley put it, “Keyword blockers are an industry stopper. As it’s gathered more steam it’s gotten out of control.”

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CNN reports that 50% of news content is being misclassified as unsafe by existing keyword blockers.  Recent press coverage of BLM and protests was affected in particular, monetized 57% lower than other news content.

The next evolution of digital advertising is a shift from “brand safety” to “brand suitability.” This is a more nuanced approach that puts content in context, rather than just assigning a binary score.  It also takes into account that what might be a good placement for one brand may not be a good placement for another.  

Unilever’s Luis Di Como said, “When we think about brand suitability, the better the definitions that we have for content that is categorized by the platforms, the better choices we have for where we run our ads.”

Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years:

Brand Safety” February 2017 (license this cartoon)

Ad Viewability” August 2015 (license this cartoon)

Programmatic Advertising” November 2014 (license this cartoon)

8 Types of Annoying Ads” June 2017 (license this cartoon)

Marketoonist | Tom Fishburne