Guide to Brand Safety in Programmatic Ad Buying

Seekr Team
March 1, 2024

There’s nothing more damaging than your ads appearing next to harmful or offensive content. In fact, it can destroy your brand’s reputation. But thanks to advances in AI, innovative brand safety solutions can protect your digital marketing campaigns from exposure to harmful content. In this article, we’ll discuss why brand safety in programmatic advertising is so crucial, and how Seekr can protect your brand from detrimental associations with damaging content.

The rise of programmatic in news, audio, and video advertising

Conventional programmatic advertising relies on behavioral targeting. Companies collect behavioral data to target potential buyers based on their activity and preferences. But rising concerns about privacy make this method less and less popular. In a bid to take back control, many customers choose not to share their data. This makes it far more difficult to target the right audience. In response, brands are moving toward programmatic advertising that targets interests. Instead of pushing ads to customers based on their previous online behaviors, advertisers are contextually placing ads based on customer interests.

Imagine a home goods company that previously pushed ads to customers who had visited its site. These ads were placed next to any type of content, so long as they reached previous website visitors. By switching to interest targeting instead of behavioral targeting, its ads now pop up next to home decor videos, on interior design podcasts, and on home improvement blogs. The result is that the ads are much more contextually relevant to the consumer.

But it’s not just privacy concerns causing the shift to interest-based targeting. With growing online niche communities, brands recognize the opportunity to meet customers where they like to congregate. For example, imagine you’re a hydroponic gardener. You’re far more likely to notice a digital ad for vertical gardening equipment on a niche hydroponic forum than on a generic news site. By tailoring programmatic advertising to target specific niche interests on relevant platforms, you’re likely to see a far better return on investment (ROI).

On top of this, advertisers now have access to more digital advertising opportunities than ever before. Online users no longer stick to conventional informational sources. They’re turning to user-generated content on Spotify, YouTube, and social media for information and entertainment from their peers. These outlets cater to diverse user interests and help advertisers pinpoint their target audiences by gearing advertising efforts to specific content genres or creators. This multimedia, interest-based approach showcases your brand in a relevant, buyer-ready ecosystem.

How to protect your brand in programmatic ad buying

It’s easy to confuse brand safety and brand suitability. Brand suitability goes a step further than brand safety. It’s no longer enough to simply keep your brand safe. Your ads should also be relevant to the content a user is looking at and well-suited to your brand message.

Let’s dig into this a bit more.

Defining brand safety

Brand safety refers to the strategies and tools advertisers use to protect their brand’s image from being tarnished by ads appearing next to inappropriate, offensive, or harmful content. Since programmatic ad tech works automatically, it’s crucial that you’re proactive and strategic about blocking your ads from appearing next to such content.

Brand safety in programmatic advertising

To prevent your ads from appearing next to harmful content, there are a few brand safety measures you can use. For instance…

Create domain and keyword blocklists (blacklists) to categorize the content you’d like to avoid. You might also create a keyword-blocking list that prevents ads from appearing on sites containing words your brand doesn’t align with, such as “extremist,” “pandemic,” and “fake news.”

Third-party verification tools are another popular brand safety technique. These tools scan and evaluate online content to make sure ads aren’t placed next to inappropriate options. They use algorithms, keyword filters, and sometimes human intervention to do this.

It’s also important to understand that in both scenarios, these techniques help prevent your content from appearing next to universally recognized harmful content. These tactics aren’t designed to place your ads next to content that’s relevant to your products and services — only to protect you from obvious negative contexts.

Defining brand suitability

Brand suitability goes a step further than brand safety. While brand safety is about avoiding negative contexts, brand suitability is about finding the right context that aligns with a brand’s values, image, and messaging. It’s about making sure ads appear in environments that aren’t just safe — but also relevant and appropriate for the brand. This helps brands appeal to their target customers since they’re already looking at relevant topics.

Brand suitability in programmatic advertising

There are several strategies you can use to ensure brand suitability with your contextual programmatic advertising.

First, consider adding whitelisting to your brand suitability strategy. These are keyword or domain lists that specify the content categories and websites where you’d like to see your ads. You can also use contextual advertising programs to leverage algorithms and AI to analyze content in real-time to determine its alignment with your brand’s values and goals.

For example, Seekr analyzes more than 30,000 URLs at the domain level to evaluate the reliability and suitability of the information being presented. The content is scored according to factors like safety, suitability, and political lean. This data can then be used by advertisers to ensure that their content is placed appropriately. By using brand suitability tactics, you’ll see your ads appearing next to relevant content that reaches your desired target audience and resonates with your brand messaging.

Challenges in brand safety

As world-renowned entrepreneur Tony Robbins put it,

“There is so much noise and misinformation out there that now, more than ever, we need to consume reliable information.”

But, it’s not as easy as you think. Despite best efforts, ad misplacements can slip through the cracks, threatening brand safety. Let’s review a few challenges to consider when creating your brand safety strategy.

Automated placements

Programmatic campaigns save time by placing ads automatically. While this feels cost-effective and time-efficient, there’s less manual oversight than in traditional advertising. Without solid brand safety measures in place, you run the risk of ads appearing next to unsuitable content.


Back when ads were a quarter-page of copy in local newspapers, it was easier to ask publications not to place them next to damaging news stories. But in today’s world of programmatic advertising, the sheer number of ad placement options makes the vetting process overwhelming. In other words, it’s far harder to track thousands of ads appearing over lots of different channels at different times.

Dynamic content

Content isn’t static. Not only can content creators change and update existing content, but they might also pivot their underlying message. Where this content previously seemed suitable, changes may now rank this content as unsuitable. For example, you might’ve placed an ad next to content about how to find eco-friendly jewelry, only to later find out the publisher updated the piece to discuss options your brand doesn’t align with.

Time to consider not just “safe” but “suitable”

While brand safety is important, it’s just a mechanism to prevent negative brand connotations. It doesn’t bolster your brand image or bring you closer to relevant customers. But brand suitability gives you a chance to highlight your brand voice, improve your reputation by association, and reach your niche target audience.

For example, picture a brand that sells educational apps for children. The company uses programmatic advertising to target parenting websites, blogs, and forums. This way, they reach parents looking for educational resources. But not all content on parenting sites and forums is suitable for an ad like this. Imagine if the ad appeared next to a blog about the developmental effects of excessive screen time. It now has the exact opposite effect. Readers will associate the brand with the article about the negative effects of screen time. This undermines the proposed value of the app.

In this example, you can see that the context in which an ad appears is vital. It’s not just about blocking misinformation or harmful content. If an ad is placed against irrelevant or contradictory content, it devalues the brand’s message.

Examples of non-contextual ad placements

Non-contextual ad placement threatens brand identity. Here are some examples of poor placement in action.

Mismatched content

Mismatched content refers to placing ads where an ad’s message doesn’t relate to the content it appears alongside. Picture a children’s toy company advertising smiling dolls alongside a tragic news article about a child’s death.

Competing brands

You’ll have lots of common keywords with your competitors. That’s why it’s important not to accidentally appear next to competitor content as it can dilute your brand’s message. Imagine an ad for Pepsi appearing next to a video about how Coca-Cola is made. Definitely not helpful for the Pepsi brand.

Inappropriate associations

Insensitive ad placements undermine your message and make your brand appear “out of touch”. Or worse — indifferent. Consider an ad for luxury handbags in the middle of an article about increased economic hardship.

Opportunities for brands that adopt contextual programmatic ad tools

Brands that advertise contextually stay ahead of regulatory changes, providing themselves with advertising opportunities that continue to stay relevant. Let’s dig into this a bit more.

Reduced dependence on third-party cookies

Privacy concerns are leading the charge to end third-party cookies. Starting in 2024, Google will no longer use third-party cookies, citing privacy issues as the main reason. If your brand continues to rely on cookies to reach customers, you’ll find your outlets for advertising become limited. By switching to contextual targeting, you can reach relevant buyers without relying on cookies.

Future-proof strategy

By focusing on context rather than behavioral tracking, you can future-proof your advertising strategy. In other words, if you’re placing ads based on context rather than behavior, you won’t have to worry about keeping up with data handling regulations.

Relevance without personalization

Behavior-based personalization can quickly become outdated. Just because a customer was browsing your products yesterday, doesn’t mean they’re interested today. Instead, contextual ads appeal to the user’s current activity or interest. You’re more likely to see engagement when you’re relevant to the here and now.

Choosing ad providers: how Seekr safely delivers scalable reach

Seekr helps you pick reliable content that reflects your brand’s identity. With Seekr, you can make sure your ads show up in relevant, suitable places, every time, allowing you to safely scale your reach. Here’s how.

Programmatic advertising

Seekr equips advertisers with key data that allows you to confidently place your brand within brand suitable content. Our technology delivers insight and analysis that helps you identify and avoid content that contains unreliable and inappropriate material. Combining domain- and URL-level scoring, insights, planning tools, and support monitoring and updating inclusion and exclusion lists, Seekr helps to ensure your brand is aligned with brand suitable content that goes beyond overly restrictive keyword exclusion, delivering scalable reach.

Podcast advertising

Seekr Align™ uses Seekr™ Civility Score™ to evaluate and rank 1,000+ podcasts at the episode level, to determine their civility. This helps you select the right podcast for advertising, avoiding episodes that contain inappropriate or controversial content. You can also track trends and score changes over time to understand the direction a podcast is heading before you invest.

Ad suitability: why use tools?

The scale of programmatic advertising makes it impossible to track and monitor ad placement by hand. Here’s how ad suitability tools can help you optimize and automate the process:

Enhanced proactive risk management

By defining whitelists and proactively analyzing content, you can promote intelligent placement without manual oversight. This can help you minimize reputational damage in advance.

Reputation preservation

Ad suitability tools help you auto-place ads in the right context to boost your brand’s reputation and align with your brand values. This creates a positive brand image in the eyes of the customer and important stakeholders.


Placing ads in relevant contexts improves ROI as you target customers who are interested in your niche. You can also prevent costly reputation fallout from poorly placed ads.

Informed decision-making

Tools help you track your ads, so you can see which relevant content aligns best with your brand strategy. You can also analyze click metrics to better optimize your whitelists based on content with the highest conversion rates.

Brand safety tools

The good news is that technology is helping to solve brand safety issues. Take the Seekr Score™, for example. It ranks the reliability and bias of online content. This way, you can make sure you’re advertising next to objective, reliable news stories, rather than misinformation or hate speech.

Future of brand safety in programmatic advertising

Programmatic advertising is changing. Brands are moving away from cookies toward context. While this reduces privacy concerns, there’s still a risk of poor ad misplacement. That’s why brand safety and suitability strategies are imperative to making sure your ads appear in a relevant context to the right target audience. With cutting-edge tools like Seekr, you can safely place your ads next to reliable content that’s relevant to your brand goals.

Protect your brand and create more effective ad campaigns with Seekr.

Contact Us

Get the latest Seekr product updates and insights

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.