In 2021, brands care about their corporate social responsibility. And, as such, many want to buy media ethically, from a diverse range of creators.

On the other hand, businesses understandably don’t want their advertising to feature alongside content that’s harmful to their brand.

And it’s clear why - 54% of consumers said they would have a negative opinion of brands running their ads on content made by creators whose values they disagreed with.

That’s why, especially in the programmatic space, so much emphasis is placed on brand safety.

Brand safety includes measures that the majority of (if not all) advertisers put in place to protect their brand from the harmful impacts of running advertising alongside “negative” content.

Over-Blocking Brand Safety

The problem lies with over-blocking.

Many brands and agencies - possibly a majority - are using a blunt-knife approach to brand safety. The result of this is the unintentional exclusion of safe, often suitable, content – typically in channel blocklists and negative keyword lists.

With terms related to race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation often regularly featured on industry-standard blocklists it’s no surprise to hear that…

“Industry standard advertising practices [are] unfairly penalizing content creators within various groups, including the LGBTQ+, BIPOC and API communities, as well as content relating to important aspects of the human experience, including social issues, mental health and wellness and identity.”

[Taken from Channel Factory, Conscious Project, 2021]

Killing Reach & Monetisation

Back in 2019, CHEQ’s ‘How Keyword Blacklists are Killing Reach and Monetization’ report looked at content excluded from an industry standard blacklist of 2000 keywords.

The report found that 57% of safe articles were being flagged incorrectly and blocked from serving ads due to the negative keyword lists and blocklists that agencies and brands are putting in place.

While that doesn’t hinder advertisers, it massively impacts creators and publishers who are then unable to monetise their content.

The study also found that…

  • 73% of safe LGBT news related content was blocked due to keywords like “gay”, “lesbian”, “bisexual”, and “same-sex marriage”.
  • 75% of safe history related news content is being blocked
  • 65% of content relating to movies and TV is being blocked

Unethical Exclusion

The reality is that these blocklists are also rarely updated.

What was deemed a necessary negative keyword last year might not be necessary today, and the communities that are taking the hit are often the ones that are in most need of support.

It’s clear that something needs to change.

Fear has caused brands and agencies to fall into the trap of unethically excluding ALL content related to various groups and communities, and not only the truly negative or unsafe content.

Content related to gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, social issues, identity (to name a few) have the right to - and should be – monetised.

And in a time where 60% of consumers would prefer to buy from brands who are committed to making online environments diverse and inclusive, brands need to do more to ensure that they are.

Achieving More Diverse Advertising

Brands, understandably, have been focused primarily on brand safety.

Our industry needs a more nuanced and tailored approach that doesn’t discriminate – albeit unintentionally – based on sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity. One that helps monetise positive content to the benefit of society.

1. Review Brand Safety Processes

Brands and agencies should review current brand safety processes. Rather than shying away from what you’re excluding, challenge your brand safety strategy, and work on developing a new process focusing on inclusivity.

2. Review Blocklists Regularly

Blocklists and negative keyword lists should be bespoke to each brand and reviewed regularly. Too often these are seen as things to be added to rather than edited.

3. Actively Whitelist Creators

Brands should actively seek out creators and channels that they align with and want to support. By adding them to a whitelist, they can help monetize positive content from a diverse range of creators.

4. Brand Safety Partnerships

Lastly, there are also third-party brand safety and brand suitability partners that can help deliver brand safety. These often use human input to ensure that content is categorised fairly.

What Is Adapt Doing?

At Adapt we now ensure that we are not inadvertently excluding words, phrases, or languages that could exclude minority groups, and make changes to guarantee we are continually challenging and developing inclusivity and representation as an agency.

Making sure all voices are represented, not just some. Ensuring we are monetizing more positive content and investing in diverse voices.

We want to encourage other brands and agencies to take the steps above and evaluate their approach to guarantee they are running advertising that improves the digital ecosystem by supporting others to shine a light on positivity and inclusivity online.