14 November 2023

Keep your brand safe! Exclude this content

Wooden fence

In summary

  • Brand safety measures assist in ensuring a brand is not associated with harmful and controversial content.
  • Content exclusions such as digital content labels and sensitive categories can help promote brand safety.
  • Display & Video 360 (DV360) allows you to exclude specific content in your campaigns that may harm the brand’s image or alienate its target audience.

What is brand safety and why is it important?

Brand safety refers to the practice of ensuring that a brand’s online advertising is not associated with or displayed alongside content that is harmful, controversial, or inconsistent with the brand’s values. It provides value due to its ability to assist in protecting a brand’s reputation, maintaining consumer trust, and preventing unwanted associations with inappropriate or potentially damaging content, ultimately enhancing the effectiveness of digital advertising campaigns.

It is thus fair to state that brand safety is an important factor that should be considered during the implementation stage of all campaigns. It is wise to ensure your brand image is protected, especially in the current context of various conflict-ridden and controversial content being produced, with various brand safety measures available to advertisers such as content exclusions.

What is content exclusion?

Content exclusions can refer to excluding particular sensitive categories or by choosing to only appear against certain, brand-friendly labelled content. Such content exclusion tools are available in DV360, and can provide great value for advertisers to ensure that their brand is displayed in a safer, more controlled, and contextually appropriate environment.

Digital content labels

Digital content labels in DV360 categorise online content into various groups based on factors such as type of content, language, context, and potential risk level. The content is analysed by Google’s own classification technology and it is then placed in one of six brand safety levels:

  • DL-G: Content suitable for general audiences.
  • DL-Y: Content suitable for families. Note that this is only available for Youtube content.
  • DL-PG: Content suitable for most audiences with parental guidance.
  • DL-T: Content suitable for teen and older audiences.
  • DL-MA: Content suitable only for mature audiences.
  • Not yet labeled: Content that has not been labeled.

Advertisers can use these labels to identify content that does and does not align with their brand guidelines and any regulatory policies that may exist. This can be used to take a more proactive approach in mitigating risk by selecting which content labels they wish to prevent their ads from serving against.

Typically, it is recommended to prevent serving your ads against content that has not yet been labeled due to the unknown risk factor behind serving against content that can be inappropriate or harmful. Further, it allows advertisers to use their ad budget more efficiently, knowing they limit resource wastage on placements that may not provide a suitable context for their ads or deliver the desired results.

Further, unless the product or service being advertised may specifically relate to mature audiences, such as that related to gambling, it is also worth excluding content rated to DL-MA, to minimise the potential negative impact of mature content on the brand.

Sensitive categories

In a similar fashion to the labels, sensitive categories in DV360 classify websites into various categories that can help an advertiser identify and act on whether they wish to restrict ads from serving against sensitive content.

Display, audio and non-YouTube video inventory

The following categories are only available for display, audio and non-Youtube video inventory.

Sexual Drugs
Derogatory Tobacco
Downloads & Sharing Politics
Weapons Religion
Gambling Tragedy
Violence Transportation accidents
Suggestive Shocking
Profanity Sensitive social issues

The categories listed above can be quite polarising, hence advertisers may want to avoid association with such content to prevent potential backlash or negative reactions from their audience. From a more holistic perspective, making use of the sensitive categories tool can allow brands to maintain consistency in their messaging and values. When ads appear alongside content that is inconsistent with the brand’s identity, it can lead to confusion and erode brand trust.

It is recommended to exclude all of the listed sensitive categories unless of course an advertiser’s product or service directly falls within these categories e.g. alcoholic beverage brands would not exclude alcohol related content.


A separate group of categories are offered by the platform for Youtube inventory, to allow advertisers to opt out a grouping of sensitive content that does not align with their brand. These are listed below:

  • Expanded categories: Ads are served across all inventory on YouTube and video partners that meet Google’s standards for monetisation. It gives advertisers a wider range of access to videos that are eligible for ads, and may include videos that have stronger profanity for comedic purposes or excessive violence as featured in video games.
  • Standard categories (line item default): All line items use this category by default. Ads are served across content that is appropriate for most brands, such as popular music videos, documentaries, and movie trailers. The strength of factors such as profanity and violence is more limited than Expanded Categories .
  • Limited categories: Ads are served on a more reduced range of content that’s appropriate for brands with stricter guidelines around inappropriate language and sexual suggestiveness - this often excludes quite a few of YouTube’s most popular music videos and other pop culture content.

If targeting Youtube inventory, it is generally recommended to utilise the default Standard categories option.

Learn what type of content is excluded and included in each category.

Reporting on content categories

It is also worth mentioning that both sensitive categories and digital content labels can be reported through the offline reporting feature in DV360. These dimensions can be added to a report to review ad spend against content that falls within these categories e.g. checking spend against DL-G vs Not Yet Labelled. This may then be used as an action point to undergo the aforementioned brand safety measures.

Application of content exclusions

Dependent on where brands run their activity, such brand safety measures can vary in necessity. For example, a brand running on open exchange may be at a heightened risk of appearing against lower quality and/or harmful inventory. Brands do not always know what they may be bidding against, hence transparency is limited and such exclusion measures are important in preventing inappropriate serving.

On the other hand, a brand utilising direct publisher deals, may not implement such measures as strictly, as risks may be mitigated through direct negotiations in where ads should appear, for example, on a sports page to avoid breaking news. The nature of such direct deals ensure higher levels of transparency in knowing exactly where ads will be appearing, alongside the ability to vet each publishing partner and ad deal individually.

Next steps

To conclude, the two features provided by DV360 can assist digital advertisers in mitigating brand risk as much as possible by safeguarding reputation, following regulatory compliance, and maintaining audience trust which ultimately contributes to a safer and more effective advertising strategy.

Get in touch with the team at Louder to see how we can help you with implementing brand safety measures. Additionally, check out our other brand safety article (more to come soon!) to learn how to use blocklists and allowlists.

If you’re interested in any other platforms or industry news, head over to our blog or sign up to our newsletter to learn more.

About Asmeeta Singh

Asmeeta is a digital advertising specialist. She enjoys spending her free time with friends, trying out new restaurants and working on crafty projects.