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SCMP Signal improves ad targeting with brand suitability

By Timmy Bankole

South China Morning Post

Hong Kong, SAR, China


SCMP Signal has evolved brand safety into brand suitability for marketers, providing them with customisable options for contextual, keyword, and sentiment targeting.

Our South China Morning Post (SCMP) natural language processing project uses data to understand:

  • The emotion of the article delivered.
  • Whether the article contains specified keywords.
  • How easy it is understood by the audience. 

The three components — sentiment analysis, sensitive keywords tagging, and article readability analysis — work together to provide article profiles. SCMP Signal combines these innovations with its lexicon-analysis tool, Valence Aware Dictionary for Sentiment Reasoning (VADER).

SCMP Signal is built directly into the CMS and is applied both to editorial and advertising.
SCMP Signal is built directly into the CMS and is applied both to editorial and advertising.

The product, built directly into our content management system to ensure 100% coverage on all articles, supports not only our advertising unit but also our editorial structure. SCMP Signal’s ability to understand what drives pageviews means we can produce more content to expand readership while increasing page session depth and user engagement.

At SCMP, we believe the application of brand suitability for all direct campaigns to be the “new norm” to address the following industry concerns.

Evolution of brand safety

Over the years, we have seen the industry try to protect brands from the negative or damaging influence of questionable or inappropriate content through the use of various methods. These include:

  • Whitelisting, which still allows access to approved applications and Web sites.
  • Blacklisting, which blocks unwanted entities.
  • Keyword targeting.

While these methods have been effective, they can also limit reach.

For content producers such as SCMP, keywords without context could lead to brands missing out on key audiences. For example, an article with the headline “New Canon camera shoots multiple coloured images” could be negatively flagged because of the keyword “shoots.” Brand suitability is more about inclusiveness and matching brands’ values to context.

Death of third-party cookies

With ad industry changes — including Google’s plans to block third-party cookies on Chrome and Apple’s coming restrictions on the Identifier for Advertiser that enables advertisers to track data for customised ads — we expect to see growth in contextual buying to fill in gaps in behavioural targeting.

The results so far

We believe publishers are well-positioned to help brands find content for their audiences that builds relevance and engagement. SCMP Signal is proving its value to advertisers, with early results indicating a more than 40% increase in performance in some cases. 

For example, a health and fitness campaign that ran from May to August 2020 showed that applied sentiment targeting helped to drive a more than 35% increase in performance compared with other strategies.

Sentiment targeting helped drive an increase of more than 35% in performance compared to other strategies.
Sentiment targeting helped drive an increase of more than 35% in performance compared to other strategies.

The graph above showed us that campaign strategies with sentiment applied drove a significantly higher performance than other lines. The sentiment breakdown gave an insight into the role emotion can — and does — play in digital advertising. 

We found that articles with a fairly negative score drove higher performance than those with a fairly positive score, which was astonishing to see during these challenging times. We were able to understand and confirm that users’ emotions affected their reactions to content.

Our campaign findings show brand suitability offers brands a unique opportunity to tap into their audience’s emotions without sacrificing on performance. SCMP is currently adding engagement metrics and a viewability measurement to help prove campaign return on investment.

About Timmy Bankole

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