News is brand safe

Posted by Brand Safety Institute • Jun 3, 2020 5:02:26 PM

Two months ago, BSI, the Local Media Consortium, and consultant and BSI Advisory Board member, Scott Cunningham, released a “Local News Advertising Inclusion List”. According to BSI co-founder, Mike Zaneis, the inclusion list, "allows advertisers with timely messages an opportunity to reach a highly engaged and untapped audience while still providing safeguards.”

Now two months on from the release, has anything changed?

A series of interviews shows that a lot has changed, including some of our most basic assumptions about digital advertising.

First and foremost, we believe that the approach to advertising against news is different. From a defensive posture, with over-reliance on over-broad block lists, the industry has embraced local news as a democratic bedrock, and an acceptable advertising partner.

BSI Advisory Board member and certified Brand Safety Officer, Joshua Lowcock planted the flag:

...UM’s chief digital and innovation officer Joshua Lowcock explains: “News is absolutely, categorically a brand-safe environment to be. There is no reason to avoid news and say that it’s not brand-suitable.

“The notion that you should somehow avoid negative news is, I think, a dangerous path to play because … it’s a slippery slope and you can’t ever win that debate. What’s negative to one person might not be negative to another.

“In the research that we’ve done, no one blames a brand for COVID-19 or coronavirus or a negative news event.”

This was echoed by Marla Kaplowitz:

“The content that people are experiencing in some ways is really challenging and concerning for some, especially when you’re hearing about deaths related to COVID-19,” says the CEO of 4As, the American Association of Advertising Agencies.

“(But) news is brand-safe. Premium news environments are positive places for brands to be. We know that millennials are going there in higher rates.”

Emphasis mine.

Integral Ad Science (IAS) CEO, Lisa Utzschneider, gave the numbers to support the above sentiments:

“In the US, we’ve seen an 88% decrease in keyword-blocking of those specific keywords, the volume of blocking, and, in the UK, we’ve seen a 77% decrease,” she says.

“Over the past few weeks, we’ve definitely seen a decrease and marketers becoming more comfortable running their brands adjacent to COVID content.”

Second, we believe that the Local Media Inclusion List has made an impact - both directly, and as example of leadership on the issue.

In the same conversation with IAS' Utzschneider, John Montgomery, GroupM’s Global EVP of Brand Safety says that they have added the Inclusion List's thousands of URLs "into the programmatic supply chain."

“We’re trying to re-monetize this so that we can make sure that as many of the other newspapers, and particularly the local newspapers, survive the COVID crisis,” Montgomery says.

Last week, the Network Advertising Initiative sent a reply to Representative Adam Schiff, in answer to his "recent inquiry about digital advertising practices during the COVID-19 pandemic and the potential negative effects such practices are having on news publishers." NAI President and CEO, Leigh Freund, used the Inclusion List as an example of the industry promoting solutions to the problem.

Also, the Local Media Consortium (LMC), in partnership with the Brand Safety Institute, launched a media-buying “Local News Advertising Inclusion List” in April that opens up thousands of vetted local media advertising opportunities for national brands and companies during times of crises, particularly as the coronavirus pandemic generates heightened media consumption. Featuring approximately 4,000 vetted news media domains across the United States, this whitelist [ed. note: now referred to as an "inclusion list"] presents a strong alternative to avoid the adverse harm inadvertently inflicted on a wide range of news publishers over the last several months. The LMC’s Inclusion List is free to use by advertisers, and the NAI and many of our partners across the digital advertising ecosystem are actively working to promote it. We are confident that this list, used in combination with the new tools being created to preserve brand-safe news, will make a substantial difference.

The industry is following our lead. John Montgomery again:

Montgomery says he hopes initiatives from the likes of Local Media Consortium, Worldwide Association of Newspapers and the SSP TripleLift can help plug tens of thousands of local media sources into the programmatic ad supply chain, helping to bring money back to publishers.

Brand safety is a quickly evolving thing. A few years ago, it was a new concept. Now it is table stakes for digital advertising, with new ideas of brand suitability building upon that foundation. Two months ago, COVID-19 was an ad adjacency crisis for brands. Today, we recognize that consumers trust premium news sites and appreciate that brands are supporting a necessary resource.

The Brand Safety Institute was founded to bring the community of brand safety professionals together to share concerns and work to solve problems. We are very proud of how our Brand Safety Officers, Board members, and like-minded organizations and executives have responded to this situation, and look forward to greater efforts and successes in the near future.

Topics: Brand Safety, Advisory Board, Ad Adjacency, Brand Suitability, 4A's, Mike Zaneis, Joshua Lowcock, COVID19, Safe List, Scott Cunningham, local news