Opinion: Hard news may seem unsafe but advertisers can win with a balanced approach
In what was already a highly charged news climate, the global pandemic and subsequent surge of COVID-19 coverage has prompted many marketers to exclude news content from their advertising campaigns.
In the last few weeks there has been widespread blacklisting of news and, as a result, Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, the trade body representing major news organizations such as Bloomberg and The New York Times, wrote an open letter urging certain advertising technology companies to exempt “premium, trusted media properties” from brand safety filters around COVID-19 and related terms.
And the threat to news is real. The coronavirus is already having a major impact on both national and local media companies who have recently announced a slate of layoffs and furloughs to contend with the crisis. Dozens of newsrooms across the country have begun cutting costs out of fear that the economic hit of the coronavirus could severely impact their ad revenues.
To help support the news media at a time when people need access to local news and information more than ever before, I would urge marketers and brand safety providers to reconsider knee-jerk reactions. News content has never been more vital to the fabric of our society. And, according to the Advertising Research Foundation, advertising that’s next to news tends to perform well. When people are paying close attention to news, that attention transfers over to the advertising.
Enacting wholesale bans on certain types of content, particularly news, is unhealthy for the media ecosystem. That’s why marketers need to be willing to roll up their sleeves and do the hard work to figure out where their brands can and should appropriately appear.
News fundamentals to consider
Supporting news with advertising has to go beyond merely selecting lifestyle content. News content has never been more vital to the fabric of our society and engagement with news stories is off the charts. According to comScore, there has been a 46 percent increase in time spent on news sites in March. While news outlets produce amazing Arts, Food, Travel and Tech content, the highest engagement and the vast majority of usage is with general and breaking news.
News content often deals in unpleasant and divisive subject matter and these are often the kinds of topics that are most top-of-mind. However, whether that material reflects poorly on the brands that advertise around it has everything to do with how the news is being presented and by whom. Your news suitability guidelines and the standards you establish pre-campaign should be developed with the understanding that people view advertising as an implicit endorsement of the outlet delivering the news. With that in mind, here are three key areas to address in your standards:
Mainstream vs. fringe outlets. Mainstream news outlets can certainly have an editorial bent, though they usually strive for a degree of balance through their reporting. Meanwhile, fringe outlets typically find their audiences by covering news topics and angles of interest to those of a certain political or ideological leaning.
Fact vs. opinion. There is a difference between editorial and the op-ed page—and the daytime reporting on cable news vs the evening shows. In the same vein, certain outlets and news segments deal in facts and reporting, while others are opinion-based and, as a result, more inflammatory in nature. Just as your news targeting strategy must be able to weed out the fake news from the real news, you must also be able to distinguish balanced reporting from biased reporting.
Global vs. national vs. local. News content focused on recent events that have had an impact on a local, national or international scale (including weather) drive massive audiences and engagement. Quality, fact-based news content can be found on the local, national and international levels, but the nature of the news portrayal will vary its level of intimacy accordingly. While the full spectrum of this portrayal can be appropriate for a given brand, others might decide they prefer a certain level of relevance.
Marketers must get ahead of the topic of news suitability for their brands, long before their first impression runs. It’s not enough to begin running campaigns within news-oriented content and wait to see if anything objectionable happens. Pre-campaign strategizing around news content requires marketers to consider carefully suitable alignment for a given brand. With data-driven, pre-campaign guardrails in place, brands can still capitalize on the billions of impressions being served against stressful and contentious—but captivating—news content.