Now more than ever, it is hard to sift through news content without questioning its suitability for advertising. Especially when it comes to news sources, there’s a constant stream of content that some brands may prefer not to associate themselves with. Whether it’s a global hardship, localized tragedy, or a controversial Supreme Court decision, the latest headlines can have implications in programmatic advertising because the world wide web is “always on.” 

When it comes to brand safety, the most important thing is to treat each event uniquely because there’s not a “one-size-fits-all” for every client or every issue that comes up. For example, when the COVID-19 pandemic started, many brands wanted to avoid being near content related to the pandemic— sites like and even started running cloud images on their premium above the fold banner ads because brands were blocking keywords like “virus.” Fast forward two years and COVID-19 is very much still happening, and it’s nearly impossible to block any terms related to the pandemic because it is everywhere. 

alyssa wollard
“When it comes to brand safety, the most important thing is to treat each event uniquely because there’s not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ for every client or every issue that comes up.”
Alyssa Wollard
Key Account Manager

So, how do you protect your brand’s integrity when surrounded by sensitive content? Brand safety vendors are easily accessible and most of your current advertising partners have capabilities to combat this risk. What we’ve seen to be most effective is blocking keywords specific to the category at hand. For example, a TX energy company didn’t want to advertise near content about the Uvlade, TX elementary school shooting, so we crafted a keyword list for our AI modeling to exclude that type of content from the advertiser’s campaign. 

What doesn’t work is blocking all news domains in an attempt to steer clear of any news at all (not just around the sensitive issue). This blanket approach has resulted in unnecessary dips in performance for brands and puts publishers at risk. After all, advertising supports the free and open internet, and when brands avoid news sites altogether, it results in a lack of funding for high-quality content. Moreover, advertising on reputable news sources actually leads to positive brand uplift. According to an IAB study, 84% of consumers feel advertising within the news increases or maintains brand trust. We recommend that brands strike a balance, avoiding sensitive topics that reflect negatively on their brand but still running ads that support news outlets.  

Here’s our list of tips to help you address brand safety in a responsible and effective way. 

1. Introduce your team to any existing brand safety partnerships.

This will facilitate  what type of content is currently being blocked and if additional categories need to be added. Each partner will add value in a different way and when they work together you can take a holistic approach to coverage of the topic at hand. 

2. Vet any brand safety blocklists from partners.

You should have a say in what keywords/domains/categories are being blocked, so ask for transparency in what each vendor is blocking and check that it matches with how you want to approach brand safety concerns for your campaign. There are times when inappropriate terms are added in by partners which end up blocking a certain demographic or ethnicity as a whole from your ads. This is when brand safety gets confused with suppression, which isn’t ever the point. You also have a say in what keywords/domains/categories are allowed, so consider actively choosing where you would like your ads to run, and creating your own allowlists. 

3. Activate news alerts on the issue at hand.

This is a way to stay on top of news trends as well as a way to scan the top headlines and gather a list of keywords to block in order to remain out of the top articles. You can set up alerts in your search browser settings.

4. Treat every issue individually.

News generally circulates in a similar way but the specific issue or topic at hand will help you determine how sensitive or fragile it might be to your audience. You can never assume how the news will evolve for certain topics, which is also why having news alerts activated is important in case a shift in strategy needs to happen quickly based on updates. 

5. Don’t set it and forget it.

Do weekly check-ins, both internally and externally, with your partners to ensure appropriate measures are being taken to protect your brand. Reassess these measures once news of the issue has died down and work together with brand safety partners to determine if action is needed (i.e., removing blocklists or categories). 

Taking a proactive approach of addressing brand safety with our clients right when the news hits is important and something all your partners should be involved in. Quantcast is able to stay on top of brand safety while working in tandem with existing brand safety partners to curate the appropriate blocklists for each issue. When addressing brand safety concerns with your partners, be open to collaboration and new approaches that will best address the issue at hand. This can help your campaign performance remain consistent while also gatekeeping the desired content. 

Learn more

If you missed our latest podcast with Claire Atkin, co-founder of Check My Ads, and Cedar Milazzo, CEO and founder of Nobl Media, tune in to episode 5 for a thought-provoking discussion about how advances in technology, the growth of social media, and changes in our political climate have made brand safety much more complex. You can also read about it here.