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.
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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 CEO Phil Schraeder said in an interview. “We need to push technology to help bring advertisement to those story lines.”