Why suitability is key for brands wanting to score big at sporting events | #MarketingMonth

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With the Six Nations Championship underway, rugby fans will be glued to a range of screens over the next few weeks – with advertisers in close pursuit. Nielsen Sports Fan Insights reports that rugby union has a fan base in the UK of at least 12 million, showcasing the exciting opportunities for advertisers to capitalise on the event.

Last year, TV viewership of English Premiership Rugby grew by 40%, while the sport has a social media following of 1.1m across the country. This social presence was cemented when TikTok confirmed its continuing partnership with the Guinness Six Nations this year, as a result of the growing rugby fever on the platform in recent years.

As TikTok’s hashtag #SixNationsRugby has over six billion views, this also creates a massive opportunity for brands who want to advertise alongside rugby content. However, to do this effectively, they will need to assess the suitability of ad placements, and adopt strategies and tools which allow them to achieve the right balance of safety, scale and relevance.

Be seen alongside trending content

One key advantage for brands is the wide expansion of sports content, meaning that there are extensive opportunities outside of match content for brands to capitalise on. For example, prior to the beginning of the tournament, Guinness Six Nations was regularly uploading video content to increase fan anticipation, including an Animated Anthems series for each nation.

Once the tournament got underway, various video highlights packages were released, including close-ups of impressive drop goals, with many videos reaching over 300,000 views on YouTube.

Brands have a great opportunity to use contextual targeting to reach fans long after the 2023 tournament ends by activating against appropriate recaps, vlogs and compilations across social media platforms.

Keeping abreast of the key trends in viewing habits around any major sporting event is obviously essential if they want to connect with their target audience. But the demand for brands to serve ads at speed to match the live sporting experience can create added pressure for advertisers when assessing the safety of content.

This can lead to brands relying on cover-all methods with their advertising campaigns, such as the sweeping exclusion and inclusion of key terms and the use of blocklists. By relying on these methods, brands run the risk of cutting off valuable and relevant content streams and missing out on more diverse audiences.

Reputational risks must be navigated carefully


Sports fans are often devoted to their teams and passions tend to run especially high during tournaments like the Six Nations. As with any other live sporting event, it’s vital that advertisers ensure they are aligned with what their audiences care about and that their ads only appear in a suitable context.

The intensity from fans can pose risks to brands via user interaction with content across certain platforms. To reduce this risk, it’s crucial for brands to ensure that the consideration of brand suitability extends to the comments sections of content.

The onus remains on brands to be responsible marketers: operating in a transparent way and taking the initiative to protect consumers. They need to ensure ads don’t end up damaging their reputation by appearing alongside disparaging videos and comments. Doing so can present major challenges, since such  content is typically  hard to assess accurately at scale.

If brands adopt the right tools, and apply a more nuanced approach to brand suitability rather than relying on traditional brand safety methods, they may find content and comments constitute a meaningful debate or conversation – rather than being unsuitable – meaning they have  the potential to benefit, not hurt, their reputation.

Stay flexible and fine-tune contextual campaigns for the best results


There is no one-size-fits-all approach for driving strong results with cross-platform sports content, but focusing on suitability is a good universal starting point. Looking beyond the limited scope of keyword blocking to assess the deeper context of content will allow brands to make smarter decisions about where to place ads, in line with what both is and isn’t the right fit for their brand and audience.

Thanks to ongoing developments in contextual analysis, there is now greater room for brands to fine-tune their ad delivery choices using advanced artificially intelligent systems trained on human categorisation of digital content; with human understanding of subtle nuances helping algorithms pinpoint what is suitable for each brand.

Advertisers can also follow industry standards to help contextualise and strengthen campaigns, such as GARM’s unified suitability definitions that help brands to refine their risk parameters for better alignment.

As fans embrace an ever-expanding range of ways to follow their favourite sports, brands have more points of possible connection to tap than ever. But with greater choice also comes responsibility.

Ads served across the multi-media sports landscape must be carefully managed to ensure brands live up to their own standards and the expectations of today’s discerning audiences. To ensure that staying safe doesn’t have to mean reducing reach opportunities, prioritising suitability will be key to winning big.

By Emma Lacey, SVP EMEA at Zefr


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