How Brands Can #BackNotBlock Publishers

There’s no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic is having a huge impact on the digital landscape, with a recent Kantar study finding that web browsing has increased 70% since the global spread of COVID-19.

However, despite digital content attracting a significant increase in engagement, publishers are missing out on millions in ad revenue because advertisers -- fearful of having their ads appear next to COVID-19 related content -- are being too heavy-handed in their use of keyword blocking.

In many cases, measures to block keywords such as"‘COVID-19" are too strict, which means advertisers are missing out on valuable audiences and limiting their campaign scale, while also inadvertently stifling the profits of online publishers and news brands that are vital to the communication of news during the pandemic. 

ISBA, IAB UK and the IPA have recently backed the UK Government’s call for brands to review their use of keyword blocking during the coronavirus pandemic.

The #BackDontBlock campaign predicts a loss of GBP50 million for news brands over the coming months and highlights the crucial role that advertisers have in supporting this vital public media. 

We need our trusted and premium news brands more than ever to help stop the spread of misinformation around COVID-19. They can do this by following three simple best practice tips for brands and advertisers on how to create brand-safe keyword blocklists during this health crisis. 

1. Be sensible and take a pragmatic approach

Technology providers and brand-safety tools automatically flag or block terms based on their association with negative news. This is the same case for COVID-19, in which its health risks automatically mean that articles which use the term and many other associated phrases are flagged as potential negative stories, grouping them in the "death and injury" category, which advertisers typically want to avoid. 

However, while there remain stories related to the fatal impact of the disease, not all COVID-19 content may be unsuitable. There are positive stories too, from how global lockdowns have contributed to improving the environment to heartwarming charitable donations, such as 100-year-old Captain Tom Moore completing 100 laps of his garden to raise money for the NHS.

Utilise your brand-safety tools to adequately protect your brand with blocking techniques on both a category and content level. This could involve looking at the backend of your keyword search to make changes manually to avoid blocking COVID-19 articles that could be appropriate, or contextual blocking to ensure the technology can differentiate between a negative story and something that’s positive by the context of the article.

2. Rely on your third-party vendors

At a brand level, manually checking and amending keyword-blocking lists can be challenging and time-consuming. This is where your third-party vendors can help, and will be experts in finding a solution that blocks unsafe content while allowing your campaigns to run alongside COVID-19 content that is suitable for your brand.

3. Advertise on premium, trusted sites 

There’s a huge difference between advertising against COVID-19 content on premium and trusted publisher sites and having your ad run as a pre-roll to a violent user-generated video on an unknown site.

Advertising on a premium and trusted publisher’s site also avoids the risks of being associated with fake news. In fact, in a recent Kantar study, 52% of respondents said that they most trust traditional nationwide news channels (broadcast and newspaper) for pandemic news.

Moreover, digital publishers with more than 25,000 subscribers have increased subscriptions by 5.8% since the COVID-19 outbreak, and had the highest digital retention rates at about 96%, according to Mather Economics.

This suggests a rising demand from consumers for trusted content from publishers, making its role even more important in order to keep the public safe and well-informed during the pandemic. 

We're all part of the same digital ecosystem -- whether as a news brand or an advertiser -- and we need to do what we can to protect it through this turbulent time. In one way or another, we all depend on it. 

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