Winning the Race for Brand Safety During Sporting Events 

river-2016-1594386_1280From Worldwide Olympic Partner to Official Supplier, being in a position to sponsor the Olympic and Paralympic Games is something many brands aspire to, and are willing to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to achieve. But association with the most prestigious sporting event in the world doesn’t come without an element of risk, and the potential for negative associations was greater than ever with Rio 2016.

Even tweeting trademark Olympic words or phrases during the games — such as ‘Rio 2016’ and ‘Olympics’ — was prohibited from social media channels for businesses, presenting brands with a minefield of risky complexities. Further still, security concerns about the event, and political and economic instability within the country, meant there were many potential pitfalls for brands to avoid on the path to Olympic success. The recent Ryan Lochte scandal only served to enforce the negative impact inappropriate behavior can have on the value and perception of brands. Lochte’s actions resulted in four major sponsors ending their partnership with the Olympic swimmer.

The rise of programmatic campaigns has played a critical role in increasing uncertainty and risk for brands at major sports events, as brands have reduced control over where their ads are placed and the content they are served alongside.

With a four-year cycle as an Olympic Global Partner estimated to cost $200 million, advertisers must protect their investment and make the best of the unique brand awareness opportunities the Olympics brings, while protecting their digital campaigns from potentially damaging associations. So how can robust brand safety strategies be achieved at such high-profile sporting events?

Traditional Brand Safety Measures  

Traditional brand safety measures revolve around keyword filters and blacklists in an attempt to keep advertising away from unsuitable content. While this might prevent ads from being served alongside blatantly offensive or inappropriate content such as pornography or excessive violence, it isn’t sufficient to safeguard the reputations of high-profile brands such as Coca Cola and McDonalds. These brands have longstanding relationships with the Olympics and millions of dollars at stake.

At best, relying on keywords wastes money on irrelevant placements and at worst it can undermine and damage brand reputation. Imagine, for example, brands that used targeted advertising for the keyword ‘Rio’ — the host city of the Olympics. The sponsor may have wasted budget advertising around content linked to an animated children’s film featuring two blue Spix’s Macaws, while at worst their ads may have appeared alongside articles about government corruption in the capital city or the spread of the Zika virus.

Equally, by targeting the word ‘athlete’, ads could have appeared next to damaging content relating to the various doping scandals that are currently plaguing the athletics scene. Even where keywords are used in the right context, they may be contained within content that expresses negative sentiment about the Olympic games that could have an adverse impact on the brand, as highlighted by the Ryan Lochte case. Lochte’s actions did not reflect the values his sponsoring brands seek to condone, or be associated with.

Intelligent Brand Safety Measures

To ensure ad placements are both relevant and brand-safe, a deeper level of analysis is required to allow advertisers to understand the true meaning and context of the content on a Web page. Advanced semantic technology, like natural language processing, can be used to read on-page content in the same way a human brain would. By accurately revealing specific themes and emotions within content, these tools allow advertisers to make real-time decisions as to the suitability of placements and protect brand reputation, rather than relying on after-the-fact campaign analysis. Intelligent brand safety technology can be customized to specific products, industries and brand values to identify questionable content that has the potential to cause brand damage.

The Olympics offered a unique opportunity for brands to connect with sports fans across the world — but association with any event that is so high profile always has inherent risks. While programmatic trading enables marketers to achieve incomparable efficiency at scale with highly targeted messaging, automation also reduces control over appropriate ad placements, potentially increasing risk for marketers if safety precautions aren’t in place. Brand safety must be developed to a sophisticated level to mitigate these risks. By embracing the latest technologies, advertisers can protect their digital campaigns from irrelevant, inappropriate or damaging placements, and take the lead in the brand safety race.

Giovanni Strocchi is CEO of ADmantx, a technology provider that uses natural language processing to help content creators understand their readers and build audience profiles.