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Navigating a safe path through online video, by Zefr’s Paola Ambrogio

By Paola Ambrogio, commercial director, Zefr MENA.

In the ongoing quest to follow consumer eyeballs, brand attention is turning towards digital video. Over the last year, video consumption has soared rapidly, rising by 56 per cent in Saudi Arabia alone. Across the MENA region, video engagement is seeing especially strong growth among coveted millennial audiences; now at three hours daily, ahead of gaming and messaging apps.

Part of the sudden viewing spike is due to Covid-19 – giving rise to the stay-at-home economy and increased screen time – but it also has much to do with the lure of varied online video; probably the best example being YouTube. Thanks to its hugely diverse scope, the platform is a one-stop-shop for everything from music to how-to and educational content, making it universally appealing. In fact, 80 per cent of MENA millennials say they can find a video to suit any viewing need on YouTube.

Such wide-ranging scope presents both opportunities and challenges. While the possibilities for large-scale reach are vast, there is also a greater risk of brand messages ending up beside inappropriate content. To drive positive response and returns, ad placement, therefore, needs to be based on a deep understanding of context and video nuance.

Understanding online nuance

Ensuring robust brand protection in today’s digital media space can be tough, but it’s even harder for those operating in multiple areas. The MENA region is a prime illustration, with the collective market covering many countries, cultures, religions and political climates; applying the same one-size-fits-all approach across the board isn’t enough. To deliver relevant and responsible advertising, brands must show sensitivity to the needs of different audiences.

Adding digital video to the mix brings further complexities. At a basic level, key best practices still apply, such as serving ads in the right local language. But brands also need to consider the subjective nature of video. The way content is perceived varies depending on individual values, background and experience. Consequently, there is vast room for interpretation that poses sizeable issues for maximising the positive impact of pan-regional efforts.

Clearly, balancing ad resonance and security calls for more than just blanket safety measures. Brands need a scalable content assessment to uncover the suitability of every video.

Why keywords alone aren’t the answer

Most brands are well aware of the issues that arise when online ads create unintended associations. As well as brand image, poorly placed ads can affect audience relationships and attitudes; see, for example, research from the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) that reports 87 per cent of consumers find it important that ads don’t show up in front of dangerous content. But what’s less widely recognised is that established techniques, such as traditional keyword-based analysis, don’t necessarily limit the probability of ad misplacement or help bolster suitability.

Keyword-centric tools lean heavily on broad term matching, which is problematic in video for several reasons. Constantly growing blocklists cut off valuable inventory and fail to accommodate brand requirements, meaning there is a higher chance of missing small nuances and placing ads adjacent to unsuitable content. In video, because algorithms have less text to work with, the likelihood of false positives and negatives — where content risk is inaccurately classified — increases significantly when it comes to video; particularly as the basic semantic analysis doesn’t take outlying indicators into account.

All of this makes it crucial for brands to start moving away from blocklists and avoidance-focused targeting, but the question is: which methods should they use instead?

Embracing people power

Integrating people into the content analysis process is especially crucial if brands want to make the most of video. Harnessing the human ability to pick up on multiple aspects of nuance and blending it with advanced technology allows for instant identification of what videos are truly about, and whether they offer suitable vehicles for ads.

The key to this collaborative tactic is using people power to fuel smart assessment. Humans can make refined suitability decisions and assess diverse content, producing data that becomes the basis for training intelligent algorithms and teaching them how to pinpoint contextual signals. When these tools are combined, machines are better equipped to replicate human-like viewing instead of running purely on the text and enable suitability-focused ad targeting at scale. The critical element is that analysis is driven by a deep understanding of brand offerings, ethics, target audiences and risk parameters, which allows for precise and safe delivery across video platforms, including YouTube.

This hybrid model can be closely aligned with the latest thinking from leading industry forces. In 2020, the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s) and the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) launched a joint set of definitions that enable brands to choose from ready-made suitability thresholds, albeit for 11 starter categories. The next step is to ensure greater awareness and adoption of these standards on a global scale.

International brands have a great opportunity when advertising across video in the MENA region, providing they do so with an understanding and respect for its unique diversity. While online advertising will always carry some risk, the human-assisted analysis offers a simple yet effective way to ensure video complexities don’t have to restrict campaign reach or results. With detailed contextual evaluation revealing more about content and consumers, brands can find their way through the nuances of each country and master sharper ad matching that drives greater relevance, improves user experience and, ultimately, enhances outcomes on all sides.