In March 2020, the marketing industry and national publications began reporting on substantial blocking of content containing keywords such as COVID-19 or coronavirus during a time when everyone was relying on local news outlets for guidance and critical information about school closures, food distribution, medical care, and general safety. This keyword blocking meant that perversely, while there was unprecedented traffic to news sites, they weren’t able to monetize it.
Investigation into the root cause of this paradox revealed that most content sources regardless of authority or context were bundled together in such a way that keyword blocking treated all of them uniformly, when those keywords were triggered. In an effort to provide advertisers with a way to separate credible, “brand-safe” news coverage from other content sources , the Brand Safety Institute and Local Media Consortium partnered with Scott Cunningham to establish a Local News Advertising Inclusion List.
Since the release of the Inclusion List, local news outlets, ad tech intermediaries, and large buyers – including marketers, agencies and national brands - have worked to unlock local news domains allowing advertising to reach their local audiences.
While it is impossible to measure the impact of these efforts, we followed up with companies who have leveraged the Inclusion List to better understand what effect it has had and what challenges remain.
Reach More than 70 companies downloaded the Local News Advertising Inclusion List including some of the largest agency holding companies, regional agencies, and global marketers.
Scope Buyers participating in the effort added up to 2,500 local news domains to their existing internal inclusion lists
Effectiveness Between 40% and 90% of the local news domains are now discoverable in various supply side platforms
Impact 40 percent of local news publishers we talked to reported increased fill from national brands following the release of the Local News Advertising Inclusion List
The results from the first four months are encouraging, especially since on the heels of the initial COVID-19 outbreak, news coverage of racial protests raised some of the same adjacency concerns for brands. One large publisher interviewed stated that national brand spend was the first to kick start their advertising recovery and attributed that to the Local News Inclusion List. They also credited the thought leadership dialogue on keyword blocking issues, citing the 4A’s announcement that local news is by definition brand safe, and as a consequence, blocking should be lifted.
The Inclusion List and other industry efforts have undoubtedly made an impact on the ability of local media publishers to monetize news content. However, the problem is not solved as large gaps remain in how to make ad inventory from local news publishers more accessible to advertisers.
Adoption While the Inclusion List has seen strong adoption from influential buyers - both marketers and agencies- there is still room for improvement. More supply side platforms need to adopt the list and remove barriers so demand sources can more easily find- and buy- local news inventory.
Availability There are significant institutional barriers that inhibit small and medium-sized publishers from selling their inventory. Many small publishers do not have sophisticated ad delivery systems and expertise which makes it difficult for their content to be correctly identified as credible and brand safe.
Context It is not uncommon for marketers and buyers to buy from channels with little consideration of brand safety. An overabundance of caution engineered to help compensate for inexperience often leads to treating both user-generated content and local news outlets similarly when implementing keyword blocking lists.
The first challenge of adoption can only be addressed by continued industry focus on the effort. For publishers, this means promoting the Inclusion list and similar initiatives that help make news more accessible to interested buyers. For buyers, this means understanding the mechanics of how inventory is sourced and the context of the content to help determine brand safety and suitability.
To address availability, the Local Media Consortium is developing a network-wide advertising initiative which includes a “digital shape-up” program to upgrade small publishers’ capabilities including first party data migration, and ways to make their content and inventory more discoverable by the buy-side of the industry. The local news industry will develop its collective voice regarding advertising and audience related initiatives.
The solution to buyer context, expertise and over-reliance on keyword block lists is to prioritize training on brand safety and publisher inventory for their teams. The Brand Safety Institute, as part of its partnership with the LMC inclusion list, is committed to creating resources and tools to help buyers become certified as Brand Safety Officers to better understand the context necessary to navigate suitability with local publisher inventory.