The Truth About Your Allow List

It's quite commonplace in digital advertising for Advertisers, Agencies and Brands alike to maintain and enforce an Allow List (fka Whitelist) across their media buys. For those outside the digital advertising ecosphere, Allow Lists are where advertisers only buy inventory from a list of pre-approved websites. These lists are added as a targeting tactic and typically provide coverage that your ads will only appear in environments that are suitable for your brand.

While these Allow Lists are intended to provide a sense of security and safety for Brands, they come at a cost. The most frequent side effect surrounding the usage of Allow Lists is that these lists by nature limit campaign reach to only sites you've heard of, leaving Brands to miss reaching their audiences in other parts of the web. However, a lesser-known side effect, and purpose of this blog post, is that not every site on your Allow List is Brand Safe.

Since Allow Lists are such a frequent inclusion in digital avertising buys, we wanted to take a (brand safety) look under the hood of the most commonly appearing domains on a variety of Advertiser, Agency, and Brand-specific Allow Lists. 

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The Allow-List Check-Up

In order to get a true sense of Allow List safety, we first looked at the amalgamation of Allow Lists maintained by a handful of top advertising agencies and brands in North America that have been previously applied to campaigns managed by GumGum. We then identified 15,246 unique sites and queried the Verity database, cross-checking and analyzing the sites that appear on this amalgamated list of 15,000+ sites with the brand safety results from Verity, GumGum's Contextual Intelligence platform. 

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The Diagnosis

Do you want the good news or the not-as-good news first? We'll go with the good news: Roughly 90% of all unique pages analyzed, rolling up to the 15,246 unique sites are indeed safe. The not-as-good news: that means that nearly 10% of the pages included on the amalgamated Allow List are actually unsafe!

But how is that possible, you might be wondering, considering Allow Lists are curated and pre-approved lists of websites that are actively being targeted for campaign delivery?

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The Prognosis

Even though Allow Lists are employed to adhere to a Brand's brand safety guidelines, they can be a blunt-force instrument -- and with any blunt-force instrument, there may be some unintended trauma. With 10% of the sites containing unsafe content, a brand could actually be at risk in a place they thought they had coverage and it only takes one mistake to tarnish a repuation.

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The Remedy

In this case, Allow Lists don't provide the level of surgeon-like precision required to fully protect a brand from appearing in an unsuitable or unsafe environment just because they are pre-approved. Instead of emploring a blunt-force approach to brand safety, digital advertisers should use technologies that minimize risk with surgeon-like precision by understanding the semantic context of the text, images, and videos present in the environments that ads are placed. 

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Written By Lane Schechter