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Over 60% of content related to Covid-19 considered brand safe, study finds

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A majority of online content containing keywords related to the coronavirus pandemic is actually safe for brand advertising, according to a study by the artificial intelligence company GumGum, Inc. 

The findings come from analysis by Verity, the company’s machine learning-based content analysis and brand safety engine. Between March 25th and April 6th, Verity identified 2.85 million unique pages containing COVID-related keywords across GumGum’s publisher network.

Of those 2 million+ pages, over 60% were classified as ‘Safe’ by Verity’s machine learning threat detection models.

“All the concerns raised lately about coronavirus keyword blocking hurting publishers are valid,” said GumGum CEO Phil Schraeder. “But this data shows that keyword-based brand safety is also failing brands. It’s effectively freezing advertisers out of a huge volume of safe trending content, limiting their reach at a time when it should actually be expanding, as more people than ever are consuming online content.”

This data shows that keyword-based brand safety is also failing brands. It’s effectively freezing advertisers out of a huge volume of safe trending content, limiting their reach at a time when it should actually be expanding.

Phil Schraeder, GumGum CEO

Schraeder says brands relying on keyword-based systems for brand safety protection are missing out on billions of impressions. Brands would have been blocked from accessing those impressions because the pages on which the impressions appeared contained one or more instance of the words “covid”, “covid19”, “covid-19”, “covid 19”, “coronavirus”, “corona virus”, “pandemic”, or “quarantine”.

The 10 most “safe” IAB content categories, according to the study, are the following:

Nevertheless, all pages referenced in this data are being blocked by keyword-based brand safety systems aiming to protect advertisers from negative adjacencies. 

According to the company, Verity deemed them brand safe based on multi-model natural language processing and computer vision analysis, which integrates assessments from eight machine learning models trained to evaluate threat-levels across distinct threat categories. 

The system’s threat sensitivity is adjustable, as is its confidence threshold for validating safety conclusions. The findings are based on Verity’s nominal safety and confidence settings––configured to align with the threat sensitivity of an average Fortune 100 brand.

This analysis reveals that a significant volume of the pages that include coronavirus-related keywords are, in fact, safe for many brands to advertise on.


The study also identified the IAB content categories that are not currently “safe”:

Even when we apply the most conservative settings, more than half the content is safe,” said GumGum CTO, Ken Weiner. “Coronavirus is touching every facet of society, so it’s hardly surprising that even the most innocuous content references it. Keyword blocking just goes way too far, which is why people are calling for whitelisting of specific websites. That mindset shows what’s wrong with the way people think about brand safety these days.”

The idea that you have to choose between reach and safety is false. Our industry needs to wake up to what’s technologically available.

Ken Weiner, GumGum CTO

The study also identified a few more trends that publishers may find useful in the current scenario. 

COVID-19 is transforming consumer behavior, the report notes, as people are confined to their homes for the foreseeable future. Since COVID-19 measures have been widely in effect, traffic has soared on pages related to dozens of IAB content categories. 

Desktop Outpacing Mobile:
Traffic is up 36% on desktop versus 19% on mobile 

Trending on Desktop:
Dozens of content categories are trending on desktop including exercise, health/low fat cooking, wine, desserts & baking, nursing, humor, buying/selling homes, career advice, homeschooling, pets, video games, and style & fashion 

COVID-19 Content Limited:
While COVID-19 is top-of-mind among consumers, only 5- 10% of inventory is related to the coronavirus

“Let me put it this way: If you’re looking for a quick and easy brand safety solution right now – rather than keyword blocking or whitelisting everything – I’d recommend simply advertising on content categories like technology, pop culture, and video gaming,” Weiner concluded. 

“You’ll get plenty of reach and over 80% of their COVID-related content is safe.”

To download the complete findings from GumGum’s COVID-related content analysis, click here.