When ads for SKYY Vodka’s “Proudly American” campaign, featuring prominent drag stars like Dusty Ray Bottoms, appeared across LGBTQ news site The Advocate, readers probably didn’t bat an eye. That’s because what readers likely didn’t know is that, for those ads to be placed on the site, it took SKYY Vodka’s media agency, Mindshare, to develop a specific private marketplace to reverse a rising issue facing LGBTQ publishers in a new wave of digital censorship.
The issue surrounds the deployment of keyword exclusion lists in programmatic buying, designed to tell automated digital advertising models not to place brands’ ads alongside harmful content. These exclusion lists flag certain words to avoid online content linked to violence or polarized political opinions, for example. However, exclusion lists might also flag words like “gay,” for example, no matter if the context for the use of the word is positive or negative. This has inadvertently diverted media dollars from credible publications in the LGBTQ community, like The Advocate and Out, according to WPP's Mindshare.
To combat this issue, Mindshare developed an LGBTQ private marketplace (PMP) with client SKYY Vodka as its launch brand. According to a study by the University of Baltimore and CHEQ, keyword exclusion lists in programmatic buying has resulted in as much as 73 percent of neutral or positive LGBTQ online content being incorrectly flagged as harmful.
“It’s a growing industry issue that if left unchecked presents not only an imminent danger to our industry but our society as a whole,” Mindshare USA CEO Adam Gerhart says.
Gerhart says the exclusion lists, sometimes called blacklists, have become “so pervasive, and black and white, that the application of them has started blocking advertisers they might want to be associated with.”
For its efforts, Mindshare’s LGBTQ PMP aggregated publishers—including Pride Media’s The Advocate and Out, and Condé Nast's Them—into one negotiated inclusion list so that brands like SKYY Vodka can support them, as well as LGBTQ content at broader publications. As of Tuesday, Mindshare says the number of publications included in the PMP is up to 12 and Gerhart says it has “a long pipeline of top-tier clients who have expressed interest” in becoming involved.
Of course, Mindshare’s LGBTQ PMP is exclusive to its clients. Forrester Principal Analyst Jay Pattisall says while he hasn’t seen a LGBTQ-specific PMP, media agencies are increasingly “using private marketplaces as a mechanism to leverage their buying power in digital by pulling preferred inventory out of the automated auction and offering it to their clients first.”
Gerhart asserts that Mindshare's main intention for deploying the LGBTQ PMP is to increase revenue for its publishers, and rethink how the industry views and uses blacklists.
“It’s critical that we challenge the brand safety standards of the last few years because they’ve become a roadblock to bringing more independent voices to media,” Pride Media CEO Diane Anderson-Minshall said in a statement. “A lot of times that’s LGBTQ voices, but also specifically people of color, immigrants and other underrepresented groups.”
Mindshare says the LGBTQ PMP is only the first in a series it expects to develop to drive more media dollars to minority and marginalized groups. The agency expects to launch more “inclusion PMPs” later this year and in 2021.
"There is absolutely a role for blacklists," Gerhart adds. "They started with the most positive intent. The challenge becomes where they are applied with such scale and force there is little room for human application."
He says he hopes as AI progresses, there will not be a need for private marketplaces like the LGBTQ PMP, which is not the case today.
As for SKYY Vodka, Senior Marketing Director Bernadette Knight says getting involved in the LGBTQ PMP was a no-brainer for the brand. “At SKYY, we have a proud history of using the power of advertising to stand up for what is important to us and our communities, to reach diverse audiences, and to drive important conversations around representation and inclusion,” she says.
Knight says the LGBTQ PMP will be “an integral part of SKYY’s media plan moving forward.”
SKYY Vodka has been behind various marketing efforts, including its 2018 “Proudly American” campaign, to support the LGBTQ community in the past. It was the official vodka of 2019 World Pride; encouraged marriage equality through its #ToastToMarriage partnership with Freedom to Marry; supported transgender rights through partnerships with Freedom For All Americans and Amazon Prime’s “Transparent”; and became the first spirits brand to promote marriage equality in an ad in 2002.