Decoding Brand Safety vs. Brand Suitability for Effective Advertising

May 9, 2024 By

Something you may be surprised to find out is that placing ads poorly not only targets the wrong audience—it can also harm your brand. As you work hard to establish a reputation, build industry expertise, and grow your business, you may have never expected to look out for this culprit.

To stay ahead of PR risks before they happen, you need a solution that helps you maintain brand safety and suitability.

Let’s put this into context: Imagine you’re a pharmaceutical company, and your ad appears next to medical misinformation. This ad placement not only doesn’t align with your brand ethos, it also risks your reputation.

But what if your ad was next to a yoga video on social media? While this doesn’t show your brand endorsing dangerous concepts, it still may not align with your target audience.

In both examples, you waste ad spend and risk ‌damaging your reputation.

In an evolving digital market, avoiding extreme content and staying ahead of trends is vital. Brand safety and suitability are imperative to helping you do this as part of your advertising strategy.

Let’s take a closer look at the differences between brand safety and brand suitability. We’ll review both concepts and why they’re important in advertising. You’ll also learn how to manage both to target the right audience in relevant places.

What is brand safety?

Brand safety refers to the practices and standards businesses use to ensure their ads don’t appear next to “unsafe” content that’s considered harmful or inappropriate. This kind of content can range from hate speech to misinformation. When ads appear next to unsafe content, it negatively impacts your brand’s reputation.

Just picture an ad for a children’s toy company appearing next to news content about gun crime. This could lead to more than just a bad rap—parents may also need to get involved.

The problem is programmatic advertising automates ad placements. This means you need robust brand safety strategies to protect your ad placements and prevent ads from appearing next to harmful content.

Why brand safety matters

Low-quality brand safety significantly impacts a company’s reputation and customer perception. Even the best PR guru can’t save your brand from a domino effect if an ad placement goes terribly wrong.

Let’s explore some deeper impacts of a harmful or inappropriate ad placement:

Poor customer perception: 71% of consumers view a brand less favorably if it’s advertised near inappropriate content. Brand safety measures help you prevent ads from appearing next to damaging content so that you can avoid negative associations.

Negative brand image: 71% of consumers believe the content surrounding a brand’s ads reflects their values. In other words, if your ads appear next to inappropriate, harmful, or misleading content, customers presume you endorse its message. Brand safety strategies help you make sure your brand’s digital advertising efforts reflect your core values.

Decreased trust: Trust is a crucial foundation for brand-consumer relationships. But 70% of consumers say they’re unlikely to trust a brand if they’re advertising next to inappropriate content.

Lower engagement: If you want customers to engage with your ads, the ads need to appear in a brand-safe environment. 56% of buyers say they’re less likely to engage with an ad near inappropriate content.

Fewer referrals: Customers recommend brands they love. But, they’re put off if that brand advertises next to harmful content. In fact, 52% of consumers say they’re less likely to recommend a company with poorly-placed, inappropriate ads.

Lessens loyalty: Brand loyalty is at risk when buyers encounter ads near unsafe content. A shocking 80% of buyers will switch brands if they see ads next to inappropriate or unsafe content.

Examples of brand safety

Having to step up and take the heat for a poorly placed ad hurts your brand image and threatens years of hard work. With so many brand safety issues cropping up for big brands, it’s no wonder 40% of marketers expect a bigger focus on brand safety to avoid long-term reputational damage.

Several companies have recently encountered challenges with their online advertising campaigns due to inappropriate ad placements:

  • A pharmaceutical company paused its ads on a popular social media platform after discovering that its advertisements were displayed alongside content supporting extremist views.
  • A global organization dedicated to peace and human rights faced backlash after its advertisements were shown next to a video spreading political misinformation related to a national leader.
  • A major telecommunications provider experienced brand safety issues when its advertisements were shown alongside content promoting conspiracy theories about mobile technology.
  • A food service company specializing in meal kits inadvertently had its ads displayed next to content opposing vaccinations.

If you place yourself in the customers’ shoes, how would you feel if you saw the above ads? Would you continue to trust the associated brands? Would you tell your friends and family about them? Imagine the effect this would have on you and your inner circle — and how it would affect the brands you no longer shop with.

What is brand suitability?

Brand suitability is about strategically aligning ads with the most appropriate and relevant content. This means your ads resonate with the content they’re next to, which doesn’t obstruct the customer’s viewing experience. This can also enhance the customer’s experience if they’re contextually relevant.

As Ken Harlan, Founder And CEO of MobileFuse, explains:

“[Brand suitability] offers brands greater confidence in where their ad spend goes and how audience engagement occurs. For example, when setting up a campaign, instead of simply identifying unsuitable content categories, an advertiser can strategically call out examples of areas to lean into.”

By relating to the content, your ads show your target audience that you reflect their values. If you lack brand suitability in your digital marketing, you end up with misaligned messaging. This harms your brand’s image and effectiveness.

For example, imagine a luxury fashion brand advertising its clothes next to a blog about bargain supermarket purchases. This diminishes the brand’s prestige and creates a misaligned and even inappropriate user experience.

But in the right context, brand suitability enhances targeting and engagement. When your ads appear in placements that align with your brand’s ethos and message, you can better resonate with your audience.

For example, a brand that sells hunting equipment would likely reach more customers on a hunting and fishing blog than a parenting blog. A brand that sells project management software would reach more customers on a productivity and project management blog than a web design blog.

But why is this important, and how do you manage it? Brand suitability is at the heart of targeting. It’s not just about reputation management. It’s also about making sure your ads reach the right decision-makers.

When ad placements are brand-suitable, they fit with the context of the content in which they appear. This makes them more relevant and reinforces your brand message.

It’s not always easy to do this manually, however. But brand suitability tools, like SeekrAlign can help. SeekrAlign ranks content to find contextually suitable environments for your ads — so you can rest easy knowing they’re placed in safe and relevant contexts.

Let’s take a closer look at how this improves the effectiveness of your advertising campaigns.

Why brand suitability matters

Brand suitability contributes to effective targeting, audience engagement, and brand alignment, which boosts sales and drives growth.

Here’s how:

Aligns your brand with your values: Advertising next to content that’s suited to your brand values reinforces what your brand stands for. Remember, most consumers believe that the content surrounding a brand’s ads reflects its values.

Targets the right audience: Four out of five people pick brands that resonate with their personal values. Advertising in the right context means reaching customers who consume content that aligns with your brand narrative. With brand suitability strategies, you meet potential customers in their preferred content spaces. This enhances the relevance and impact of your advertising.

Boosts ad engagement: Relevant ads are more engaging. In fact, contextual advertising gets more engagement than any other type of ad.

Increases sales: Most importantly, brand suitability drives sales. Half of buyers agree they’re more likely to purchase from a brand whose ads appear near suitable content.

Examples of brand suitability

Brand-suitable ads are highly relevant. They appear in context to the content and create coherency. By picking suitable content that reflects your values, you reach the right audience and directly target their interests.

Here are a few examples to demonstrate what we mean:

Compostable phone case brand Pelo advertises on an eco-mom blog in an article with a zero-waste theme. The ad directly targets people interested in sustainability and eco-friendly living.

snippet of a blog about a baby diaper blog with a phone case ad

Photo storage company SmugMug and camera retailer Keh advertise on a photography website.

Photographers need both of these products, so it’s a highly suitable ad placement for these brands:

photo from stock photography blog

Outerwear brand Patagonia, places banner ads on the following hiking blog.

This looks as though these hiking experts endorse Patagonia’s line as their number one pick for hiking gear:

hikers blog snippet

Brand safety vs. brand suitability: How they differ
Shockingly, 42% of brands still think brand safety and brand suitability are the same thing. But brand safety concentrates on avoiding harmful content. Brand suitability focuses on finding the right content to complement your brand’s values and message to reach the right audience.

Here’s a comparison chart to illustrate the differences:

Brand Safety Brand Suitability
Focus Avoiding harmful, inaccurate, or inappropriate content Placing ads with content that compliments brand values
Goal Protecting brands from negative associations Using relevance to create positive associations
Approach Reactive – blocking unsafe content Proactive – seeking suitable contexts
Method Blacklists/blocklists, content audits, GARM brand safety standards, AI content ranking Whitelists, contextual targeting, audience insights, AI content ranking
Impact Prevents damage to brand reputation Strengthens brand messaging and identity
Strategy Often employs blanket rules for content exclusion Tailors ad placement to specific audience segments
Flexibility Typically uses fixed standards for all types of content and brands Customizable to each brand’s unique values and goals

Why is brand safety and suitability so tough to manage at scale?

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as you think to manage brand safety and suitability manually. The nature of programmatic advertising means that the keywords in your whitelists and blacklists determine your ad placements.

This means the system may sometimes misinterpret keywords, which can result in ads appearing in unsafe contexts (and missed advertising opportunities).

For example, ‌a photography company that allows the word “shoot” may see its ads appearing next to gun crime articles. Not only does this not align with the brand’s messaging, it’s also a controversial topic. On the flipside, if the photography company blocks the word “shoot”, it may miss opportunities to advertise next to relevant photography blogs and podcasts on shooting techniques.

In other words, it’s almost impossible to read and understand all potential content placements manually. It’s also time-consuming and inefficient. But thankfully, SeekrAlign empowers you to navigate both brand safety and suitability without the need for labor-heavy manual oversight.

Its sophisticated AI ranking system understands and ranks content at the granular level. It checks validity and accuracy and reads into the nuance and context of the content.

In doing this, it highlights the most relevant content to advertise next to, without the risk of brand safety or suitability issues. Every ad placement avoids harmful associations and strategically aligns with your brand’s ethos.

Final tips to enhance brand safety and brand suitability

For your ads to connect properly with your target audience, you need to manage both brand safety and suitability.

Here are some final tips to get you going:

Conduct regular content audits: Review your ad placements often. This helps you spot misalignments so you can notice what works.

Use advanced AI monitoring ad tech: Implement AI for real-time monitoring of ad placements and contextual environments.

Tailor content to audience segments: Customize your ads to resonate with specific audience segments, so you reach them in a contextual environment with a relevant message.

Leverage AI-driven matching: Use SeekrAlign to match your ads to high-quality brand-suitable content and maximize marketing budgets.

AI-driven technology like Seekr can revolutionize how you align your ads to reach your star customers.

Find out more now about how SeekrAlign helps you create a high-impact advertising ecosystem.

See how!


1. How do I measure the effectiveness of my brand suitability strategies?

You can assess the effectiveness of your suitability strategies by:

  • Analyzing audience engagement metrics
  • Conducting a sentiment analysis
  • Comparing ad placement contexts with brand values and performance goals

2. How can brands adapt safety and suitability strategies to different advertising platforms?

To adapt safety and suitability strategies to different advertising platforms, use platform-specific analytics and AI-driven insights to understand what works and what doesn’t.

Customize content and targeting strategies for each platform’s unique audience and content nature.

3. What are the legal implications of ignoring brand safety and suitability in advertising?

If you neglect brand safety and suitability, it can lead to legal challenges around:

  • Deceptive advertising
  • Violating consumer protection laws
  • Inadvertently supporting illegal or harmful content

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