Skittish Advertisers Needlessly Shun Content on Climate Change
(Bloomberg) -- Companies worried about protecting the image of their brands online are needlessly turning down opportunities to advertise alongside content about climate change.
Firms have long kept lists of trigger words that can stop their digital ads from appearing next to content they consider to be difficult or controversial, such as terrorism or Brexit. The blunt tactic can deprive publishers of revenue for important stories, as happened in the early days of the pandemic, when brands were wary that marketing next to covid news would turn consumers off of their products.
Heightened emotions and the potential for disinformation around global warning mean terms such as “climate change” and “clean air” can appear on firms’ lists of words to avoid. Now, one advertising startup says a majority of environmental content that gets flagged by these lists is getting unnecessarily punished.
Advertising tech company GumGum, backed by Goldman Sachs Group Inc., assessed 1.2 million unique webpages produced by publishers it works with containing climate keywords. It used its machine-learning content analysis engine over a one-month period to determine if key words on environmental topics also kept ads from being served to suitable articles.
About 59% of those pages met brand safety standards set out by the cross-industry initiative Global Alliance for Responsible Media, which guide companies away from promoting illegal or explicit activity or linking their products to insensitive treatment of contentious social issues. In other words, nearly 60% of pages should have been marked as safe for brands to advertise.
“News outlets are going to be punished just for factual reporting,” GumGum Chief Executive Officer Phil Schraeder said in an interview. “We need to push technology to help bring advertisement to those story lines.”
Keyword blocking is a much blunter way for brands to guard their reputation than the approach used by GumGum, known as contextual advertising, which uses algorithms to analyze web pages and determine where best to place ads.
GumGum, based in Santa Monica, California, estimates by one measure that blocklists containing terms related to the environment would deprive its own network of publishers of about $7 million a year in ad revenue.
Newsworks, a marketing group for British news publishers, said its members have alerted it to the appearance of environmental terms on blocklists, and has called on the advertising industry to take action.
“With climate change rightly dominating the news agenda, millions of people are looking to trusted news sources for vital information and analysis,” said Jo Allan, chief executive officer of Newsworks. “While brand safety is critical for advertisers, I am sure the irony is not lost on people that while many businesses are hailing the importance of climate change action they could actually be hampering it.”
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