Keyword Blacklists Make Mass COVID-19 Attention Hard To Monetise

As next week's inevitable rush to furlough begins, it would appear that most of the media world will be placed in a state of stasis over the next month or two.

Before we get on to the early movers who are signalling just how bad this recession is about to become, it's worth dwelling on the ultimate irony. When I have talked to ad executives over the past couple of weeks, everyone has expressed the same view: with attention going to digital -- and more particularly, digital news sites -- that's where their spend was going too.

There was, of course, just one problem with that -- brand safety tools. So many big brands are banning their advertising being seen alongside COVID-19 references. I've talked with ad-tech companies about this whole issue many times before.

There are keywords that get blacklisted, such as "murder" or "knife," because brands want to be seen alongside positive stories. The downside is that some might be perfectly suitable pages. A sat nav firm might miss out on being placed alongside a column calling for better tech to help someone avoid the M25 in rush hour, which is sheer "murder." A culinary brand might want to be seen on a page where a chef advises on which knife to cut a Sunday joint with.

This is what we have here -- but the ultimate irony is that brands are rushing to digital news sites to spend money, only to find their own rules won't let them.

The Guardian ran an article this week pointing out that the problem was already leading to papers missing out on GBP50m of ad spend.

The greater irony is that newspapers are using COVID-19 keywords to boost SEO performance, and yet those very terms are having a direct negative impact on potential digital advertising streams.

It's worth mentioning this first because it shows that at the greatest time of online attention, those eyeballs cannot be fully monetised. It's rather like Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," there's a lot of water out there, but not a drop to drink.

Which leads us sadly to the impending week of doom next week. The Government's furlough system kicks off with the new financial year on Monday and we're currently drawing to the end of the week when many bosses will have been making decisions and probably letting staff know the lay of the land.

There are too many stories to mention individually already, but a glance at the excellent Press Gazette website shows that many news organisations are already announcing that many staff will be furloughed.

Obvious candidates were always going to be at the Evening Standard and City A.M. for whom there are no commuters to receive print copies. Sports journalists are being furloughed at PA for the rather obvious reason that there's no sport going on right now. Magazines are being closed and remaining staff are having their salaries slashed or are being furloughed.

This is the news from the week before the scheme starts, and we can all expect a raft of announcements from publishers as well as agencies when the scheme opens up from Monday. 

While we applaud the brave souls from the NHS again tonight, I wonder if any brands might wonder if they could do a little more for our press and relax the keyword blocking. It would surely make a world of difference.

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