VIA BEETCAM — The new president of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) says he expects an encouraging response from advertisers and agencies whom he had asked to cease bypassing COVID-19 news content.

IAB president David Cohen, who just joined from IPG’s Magna, published an IAB article, How Brands and Agencies Can Save American Lives in The Coronavirus Crisis.

Publishers’ group Digital Content Next has also written a letter to marketers and ad verification companies asking them to exempt premium, trusted media companies from COVID-19 brand safety filters.

Brand safety tools have emerged in recent years as a response to situations in which advertisers found themselves placed next to unsavory or unappealing content, typically working by allowing advertisers, through their demand-side buying platforms (DSPs), to blacklist content described by selected keywords.

The practice is rocketing during the coronavirus crisis:

  • Coronavirus-related news stories are now being widely blacklisted, according to brand safety vendors cited by Digiday.
  • A third of GroupM clients are blocking coronavirus terms.
  • Native ad platform Adyoulike says ads simply targeting homepages have also fallen off a cliff.

Last week, Comscore announced its own “epidemic brand safety filter”, saying “22% to 30% of all ad impressions are appearing in coronavirus content” – more than “crime and violence” at 2% to 5% – with advertisers asking the company to “protect their brands from some of this unwanted negative content”.

In this video interview with Beet.TV, Cohen protests: “News should not be blocked from advertising support. We need the news now more than ever before. That’s our ask.

“There’s a bunch of folks that are keyword blocking anything around COVID-19 or coronavirus or that kind of stuff. News and natural disasters sometimes gets lumped into something that is not ad-supported.

“We believe that a healthy news ecosystem is required for us to save as many lives as we possibly can. We need to support it.”

Publishers were already making a similar call before coronavirus exploded. Last year, Beet.TV produced a series, Why News in Today’s Marketplace, in which executives explored how to navigate what has become a charged, negative and sometimes partisan current-affairs landscape.

Vice Media revenue chief’s said brand safety blacklists, which allow ad buyers to filter certain sites out of their demand-side buying platforms, were effectively “censoring” news sites.

GroupM senior advisor Rob Norman said: “The idea that a whole category of content, and eventually almost all of what I would referred to as ‘hard news’, could be determined as bad news … is patently absurd. News organizations can only produce great news if they have great funding.”

Now IAB’s Cohen, talking with Beet.TV, tells advertisers: “Do not block the news. Align on the 10, 20, 50, 100 news outlets that you believe to be credible news sources and make sure that you invest advertising dollars there. Critically important.”

And he expects a positive response to his call.

“I think you will find, over the next coming days and weeks, there is an overall acknowledgement,” Cohen adds.

“We’ve gotten a lot of really good positive feedback as of late that most people agree that we need news now more than ever and that I hope that we’re going to start seeing folks come back to that environment in the short-term and in the long-term.”

The IAB is a member body representing more than 650 leading media companies, brands and the technology firms responsible for selling, delivering, and optimizing digital ad marketing campaigns.

eMarketer has revised-down its annual ad spend outlook thanks to COVID-19, and, despite growth in consumption of media platforms from homebound consumers, says: “Even as we’re spending more time (online), we are actually seeing advertisers start pulling back some of their spend on these digital platforms.”

Asked how advertisers will react, IAB’s Cohen tells Beet.TV: “Most people will take a stop or a pause for a very limited period of time, rethink, replan, reevaluate, and then get back in market.”

This video is part of Beet.TV’s coverage of brand safety and the use of keyword blocking during the COVID-19 pandemic.  For more videos from the series, please visit this page.