LONDON – The UK arm of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) has joined the calls on advertisers to stop cutting news publishers out of their media plan during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stretching back to March, many ad buyers have been using keyword-based blacklisting tools to eliminate buying opportunities against news stories about the virus.

In this video interview with Jon Watts for Beet.TV, IAB UK CEO Jon Mew says: “If you’re a news provider or a company that works with news brands, there’s been a massive impact because of the blocking activity.

“Many brands are choosing to block coronavirus keywords. But also brands are choosing just to block all news now.”

Quality counts

Earlier, 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 also wrote a letter to marketers and ad verification companies asking them to exempt premium, trusted media companies from COVID-19 brand safety filters.

In the UK, the issue has gone high-level, with the government’s culture and media secretary Oliver Dowden writing to 100 leading brands to ask for an end to blocking.

IAB UK’s Mew says he has a good reason why brands should stick with news. IAB UK last year conducted an eye-tracking study that he says shows “quality matters”.

“Quality content performs better,” Mew reports. “Actually the biggest driver of attention on ads is the quality of the content. People are three times more likely to engage and focus on ads that are in quality content versus ads that are elsewhere on the internet.

“We have to do a better job of educating the industry about that.”

Existential threat

Poynter has been keeping a long list of US newsroom job cuts and furloughs.

In Mew’s UK, IAB UK is amongst a litany of trade bodies (Advertising Association, Society of Editors, ISBA, IPA, AOP, IAB, NMA and Newsworks) have formed the #BackDontBlock campaign, urging advertisers: “An important pillar of our democracy is being compromised at a time when it is more important than ever.”

Mew says: “What we’re seeing from most news providers at the moment, their traffic is up perhaps by 50% but revenues have been hit very, very hard.

“We need to work very quickly to solve this problem because I think it’s an existential threat to free news, which is so important for not only for our industry, but for society as a whole.”

A way forward

IAB UK is offering nine tips to advertisers; paraphrasing:

  1. Carry on advertising, since online audiences are highly engaged.
  2. Spend against hard news content, including by removing virus-related terms from block lists.
  3. Buy direct with news publishers to support content.
  4. Speak to publishers to better understand.
  5. Review campaign messages to ensure they are appropriate for the times.
  6. Review brand safety and block list strategies frequently.
  7. Invite agency feedback and industry best practice.
  8. Notify teams and PR staff that ads may appear around COVID-19 news.
  9. Share widely the message that you continue to advertise through news.