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Advertiser bodies back campaign to tackle blocklisting

Posted on: April 20, 2020 by Ian Murray

Industry bodies representing UK advertisers, agencies, publishers and tech companies have come together in support of a message by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) calling on brands to review their use of keyword blocking during the Covid-19 outbreak.

It follows concerns that overzealous keyword blocking of coronavirus-related terms is impacting publishers’ ability to monetise news content. The practice has led to advertisers refusing the permit their advertisements to appear alongside reporting of the coronavirus epidemic even though the public are reaching out in ever greater numbers to such articles.

Press industry organisation Newsworks reported last week that if the pandemic lasts for another three months, news brands are expected to see a major revenue hit as a result of the practice known as ‘blocklisting.’.

The ISBA – representing UK advertisers-, the IAB UK – the industry body for digital advertising-and the IPA – representing agencies – are contacting members in support of the Government’s message. They have jointly published specific advice on how to responsibly review content verification strategies in the current climate. It has been shared by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden MP in a letter to 100 major UK brands.

The action is part of a wider, cross-industry campaign, which aims to encourage advertisers to take a balanced approach to keyword blocking at this time – helping to support brands, publishers and the overall sustainability of the ad industry. 

Phil Smith, ISBA’s Director General, said: “We welcome the Secretary of State’s support for the joint-industry guidance in his letter. The use of keyword blocking is a critical component of how advertisers direct their advertising in the open display market. But by making best use of content verification technologies, brands can avoid the sort of blanket approach that may lead to them inadvertently blocking trusted news sources, whilst maintaining brand safety. This is particularly important during this crisis. We encourage all ISBA members to take account of the guidance available to them through our knowledge hub.”

Jon Mew, IAB UK’s CEO, said: “Protecting a brand’s safety online remains hugely important for advertisers, but taking a multi-faceted and nuanced approach to the brand safety solutions that content verification technologies can offer is far more effective and responsible than blanket keyword blocking. While this has been an issue the industry has been jointly working on for a while, the current crisis accelerates the need to protect all parts of the digital ecosystem – particularly at a time when we’re heavily relying on the ad-funded web to stay informed.”

Nigel Gwilliam, IPA’s Director of Media Affairs, said: “The coronavirus is our common enemy. And at times like this we must unite against it. On a mass scale by staying at home. And on an industry scale by uniting to ensure the keyword blocking of coronavirus-related terms is not overzealous. By doing this our industry can ensure trusted news brands receive appropriate advertising support to their essential coverage of the crisis.”