Stuart Derrick
May 28, 2021

Why you need to know about brand suitability

New tools from CNN can protect brands in a news environment while also aligning them with positive, brand-suitable content.

Robert Bradley, senior vice president at CNN international Commercial.
Robert Bradley, senior vice president at CNN international Commercial.

Brand safety is more important than ever - but, in attempting to protect their campaigns, could advertisers also be missing out on valuable audiences and blocking content that supports their brand ethos?

Robert Bradley, senior vice president at CNN international Commercial, believes so. “All brands need brand safety and strategy - but how many have a brand suitability strategy?” he says. 

The media brand is at the sweet spot for the kind of factual and authoritative content many brands are craving in the age of “fake news” and disinformation. But at a time when brands want to demonstrate what they stand for, Bradley suggests they risk tying one hand behind their backs as they adopt an over-conservative approach to brand safety.

“It is rare that we get a brand brief without some sort of impact messaging around areas like sustainability, diversity, or climate change,” he says. “Brands need to stand for something and need to be authentic within those areas.” 

The problem is that the very subjects brands feel they need to take a stand on are often those that often fall foul of restrictive block-word lists.

It is hard for brands to demonstrate they are genuinely invested in specific areas if there are 3,000 block words that steer them clear of content that can be awkward. 

Block lists are a very blunt tool, Bradley believes. Words can only be understood in context, but this nuance is largely missing in most tools. For example, trigger words such as “explode” can link to content about a terror attack, but can also link to a fast growing cultural trend. “Hack” can be in the context of a cyberattack, or  can refer to a creative or innovative piece of thinking.

Rather than simply blocking words, brands need to be smarter and adopt tools that understand nuance, he says, allowing them to be part of the debate on issues that are important to them.

It was a lack of suitable third party technology at its disposal that led CNN to invest in building its own solutions in-house - tools that recognise the particularities of news content and are sharper than those built for a broader use.

CNN’s brand safety and suitability tool SAM (Sentiment Analysis Moderator) uses neuro-linguistic AI to analyse the context of sentences across text, audio, video and galleries, classifying it as positive, neutral, mixed or negative to determine when content is brand-suitable. This ensures advertising is adjacent to the most appropriate content.  

It is used in tandem with an internal content classification tool which tags content using IAB taxonomy, in line with industry standards. Editors classify and tag content in the content management system, as it is published, so that there is true alignment to a brand’s requirements even if an article is updated during breaking news.

The result is that CNN has been able to offer a more sophisticated alternative to blocklists by using its technology for more positive contextual targeting.For one tech brand, CNN compared its tools with an existing block word approach. CNN’s SAM lowered the incident rate of 15% to around 1% and provided 37% more viable inventory.

This “opening up” of a greater proportion of CNN’s inventory gives brands more opportunities to reach the media brand’s global digital audience – clocked at 192 million unique visitors in February by Comscore (the most recent stats currently available). As well as placing brands, where appropriate, in some of CNN’s most popular and engaging environments, this approach means audiences will see brands aligned with, and therefore supporting, quality journalism.

Bradley is confident that  brands are now ready to make the shift from brand safety to embracing brand suitability - with the right tools.

The demands of the pandemic helped some brands build an intimacy with their consumers at a time when there were feelings of common purpose. With consumers demanding to know what brands stand for, the onus is on those brands to be authentic in what they say and how they present themselves.

“Brands want to do good,” Bradley adds. “But when they’re getting their marketing out there, they need to be well-researched. Because, if they get it wrong, that intimacy can be broken. The pandemic has heightened that.”

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