Advertisers asked to stop blocking advertising on essential news sites during COVID-19

Gai Le Roy, CEO of IAB Australia
Gai Le Roy, CEO of IAB Australia

Industry association IAB Australia has issued an urgent call to action for brands, agencies, ad verification firms, and other companies in the digital advertising supply chain to stop blocking the news.

The call comes as many brand and agency teams have mistakenly updated their programmatic and all other media buying to prevent any advertising surrounded by topics including “crisis,” “COVID-19,” and “coronavirus”.

IAB has also encouraged brands who may currently be reviewing their creative and messaging before relaunching their advertising campaigns to ensure they consider their policy around which environments they support when they relaunch to ensure they don’t inadvertently block premium content sites.

Read the room, keep up with the times!

According to Gai Le Roy, CEO of IAB Australia, news consumption has understandably changed over the last month as people seek out information and return to news websites for regular updates, yet advertisers aren’t keeping step with this demand.

“Credible news and media organisations are seeing huge jumps in online traffic, but many brands are blocking advertising from appearing near content mentioning coronavirus. It’s essential that brands support news and journalism because with this content now so ubiquitous, without advertising support it will be simply unworkable and unsustainable for the production of news content.”

Production of accurate helpful and accessible information by journalists working for credible news organisations need to be financially supported through advertising, yet worryingly, while news organisations are investing heavily to keep the public informed, the word “coronavirus” and “COVID” are fast accelerating up advertiser blocklists, leaving swathes of news inventory redundant of much needed ad revenue.

“Brands and agencies have the ability to decide for themselves the news organisations they deem legitimate and critical to the Australian public and economy. For those brands able to advertise at the moment, having advertising messages in these trusted environments with engaged audiences is an important investment,” said Le Roy.

The IAB endorsed Nielsen industry audience measurement currency, Digital Content Ratings, shows that overall time spent on digital news sites and apps is up 29% for March to date compared to the same period in February and records continue to be set daily.

What should advertisers do?

IAB Australia has advised advertisers to always block specific words that are 100% unsafe, but for other more common or easily misunderstood terms, they recommend using more than just lists of keywords.  Instead they recommend always utilising semantic contextual targeting to ensure that you can fully understand the editorial context from the text on the page and the level of risk within or adjacent to the associated environments.

Further advice includes:

  • Be creative with the targeting attributes and utilise them in conjunction with publisher’s audience data to take advantage of the enormous levels of regularly returning highly engaged audiences on premium content sites. This will help buyers to build-out models that are much more precise, meaningful and robust.
  • Try to understand the basics of any verification vendor methodologies, regularly review performance during these critical times and be prepared to interpret the data directly.

What do industry experts have to say?

Tereza Alexandratos, Director, Commercialisation and Delivery at The Guardian | Australia says, “At this troubling time, delivery of high quality and broad reaching news service is imperative. The Corona virus is one of the most important stories of the decade – advertisers must be brave enough to have their messaging appear next to the stories that Australians are reading. This approach offers the most effective advertising for brands, and for Guardian Australia, we need advertisers support more than ever to ensure our survival and continue reporting on this health crisis.”

Alistair McEwan, SVP Commercial Development APAC, BBC Global News says, “Brands that are making lazy decisions to block or avoid news for their current advertising are not only hurting news publishers and journalism, they are missing a cast iron opportunity to really connect with audiences. Now is the time to step up and not shrink into the shadows and I encourage brands and their agencies to work closely with publishers at this time to understand and deploy sensible and appropriate solutions.”

Matt Rowley, CEO of Pedestrian (and Chair of the IAB Australia Board) says, “Applying generic brand safety rules without fully considering whether the news organisation is legitimate and critical will cause brands more harm than good. We encourage all advertisers to take advantage of their ability to control with precision where their ads appear and to embrace the opportunity to support the ongoing production of news and journalism in these uncertain times.”

Neil Robinson, Managing Director Digital Solutions, News Corp says, “With the crisis now the dominant news story, at News Corp Australia, we’ve been asking brands to back us not block us.  It’s important that brands understand that there can be no stigma attached to such far reaching essential news. Appropriate, relevant and empathetic advertising on reputable and premium news sites around Coronavirus content can be extremely powerful. In fact, such messages can be vital communication tools for brands when consumers need more information, not less, to cope through crisis”

Paul Sigaloff, Managing Director, Verizon Media says, “As a business, Verizon Media’s editorial staff have been working around the clock creating highly engaging and informative content for the Australian public which has led to a significant uplift in our audience (up to 57%) as consumers move to trusted and transparent news sources. We understand the risks that advertisers are trying to avoid and we have brand safety measures to mitigate these risks. In saying this, it is worth noting there is a clear distinction between blocking your advertising from somewhat risky or unsuitable content, and blocking it from what has become a cultural phenomenon. COVID-19 has inserted itself into every part of the consumer’s life, and that also applies to content. For most brands, to block yourself from appearing against COVID-19, is to effectively block yourself from the consumer’s view. In that situation, your brands, the publishers and the Australian public miss the opportunity for relevant engagement.”

Peter Holder, Managing Director, Daily Mail Australia, “Daily Mail Australia is first and foremost a news website and, as the COVID-19 situation continues to unfold, our audience has increasingly relied on us to keep it informed on events which are changing almost by the hour. Now is not the time for incessant chat about brand safety, but it is a great opportunity for many brands to connect with very seriously engaged sets of eyeballs.”