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Keyword Lists: Not the Key to Brand Safety

When managing brand safety and suitability, one of the first tools that comes to mind for many is a keyword filter. In theory, ensuring that your product is not marketed on the same page as profane, violent, or controversial content should help to prevent damage to the brand. Keyword, or Regular Expressions (RegEx) filters will scan a webpage before greenlighting it for ad placement - and if a prohibited word or phrase appears, the ad is blocked from that page.

However, managing brand safety by keyword lists is a flawed solution, for many reasons.


A keyword or Regular Expressions (RegEx) list takes a lot of time, and energy, and resources to initiate and to maintain, and it must constantly be checked and updated by employees who could be putting time to better use.

Contextual blindness. 

Blocking ads from appearing on the same page as a specific word seems fairly straightforward: but there can be many unintended consequences. For example, a number of advertising opportunities were missed when ads were blocked from appearing on the same page as the iconic picture of a black hole, because the word ‘violent’ was used in the copy:

the unleashing a violent jet of energy some 5,000 light-years into space

Meghan Markle, the newest member of the British royal family, generated a ton of interest online: with Google searches for her name exceeding 30 million around the time of the royal wedding, and currently at 2.24 million per month! However, many brands missed out on the opportunity to reach this audience due to a blocked keyword, ‘sex’ - which appeared in her official title, “Duchess of Sussex.”

Multiple Language Support. 

A website may contain a number of different languages, coded terms, or culturally-significant (but not keyword-restricted) themes. This is an enormous vulnerability in keyword-based brand safety: creating a list that supports multiple languages, cultures, terms and ideas is an impossible task; and updating and maintaining such a list is a more than full-time job.

To truly manage brand safety, platforms must start thinking about evolving their concept of brand safety beyond blocking adjacency to prohibited keywords: and moving to a comprehensive understanding of the infinite cultural, linguistic, and contextual implications of promoting and reinforcing brand image.

Oasis Consortium was created to help define brand safety standards, and unite stakeholders across brands, advertisers, academics and regulators to support online brand safety. Join the movement and become an agent of change.