NEWS20 April 2020

Ad industry backs government keyword blocking call

Covid-19 Media News UK

UK – Advertising industry bodies IAB UK, IPA and ISBA have backed the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s call to brands to review the use of keyword blocking during Covid-19.

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Keyword blocking is a brand safety practice used in online advertising to prevent ads appearing next to news articles containing specific terms.

Among agencies and publishers, there is concern that excessive or ‘overzealous’ keyword blocking of terms related to coronavirus is harming publishers’ ability to monetise news. Trade body Newsworks recently estimated that the total loss to news brands could be £50m if the pandemic lasts for another three months.

In an article in the Times on Saturday ( 18th April), culture secretary Oliver Dowden wrote: “I have written to the 100 biggest brands in the UK to urge them to review their advertising policies and check they are not inappropriately blocking adverts from appearing next to news providing a vital public service.”

ISBA, IAB UK and the IPA, representing advertisers, the digital ad industry and agencies respectively, are contacting their members to back the government’s message. They have also published advice about how brands can review their content verification strategies, included in Dowden's letter.

Phil Smith, director general, ISBA, said: "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."

A joint statement issued by a group of content verification providers also supports the government’s call. The statement from the IAB UK, DoubleVerify, Integral Ad Science and Oracle Data Cloud, says: "We do not advocate a blanket approach or overzealous use of keyword blocking. We recommend a pragmatic approach, with consideration that not all Covid-19 content is damaging to all brands and there continues to be high quality, educational journalism from trusted news sources."