Advertisers are shunning coronavirus coverage on premium Australian news sites

Chris Pash
By Chris Pash | 3 April 2020

Advertisers are blocking premium news in Australia in the name of brand safety at a time when coronavirus coverage is attracting record audiences and deep engagement. 

Industry association IAB Australia has issued an urgent call for brands, agencies, ad verification firms and others in the digital advertising supply chain to stop blocking pandemic news.

Publishers say many brand and agency teams have updated programmatic and other media buying to prevent advertising surrounded by topics such as “crisis,” “COVID-19,” and “coronavirus”.

The issue is cutting advertising revenue at a time when premium news websites have established deep trust, intense engagement and reach with audiences for their detailed and objective coverage of the pandemic.

In the US, “coronavirus” is now the keyword blocked by the most brands, overtaking “Trump,” according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

IAB in Australia is also encouraging brands reviewing creative and messaging before relaunching campaigns to ensure they don’t inadvertently block premium content sites.

“Credible news and media organisations are seeing huge jumps in online traffic, but many brands are blocking advertising from appearing near content mentioning coronavirus," says Gai Le Roy, CEO of IAB Australia. 

"It’s essential that brands support news and journalism because with this content now so ubiquitous, without advertising support it will be simply unworkable and unsustainable for the production of news content.”

Digital Content Ratings, the IAB-endorsed Nielsen industry audience measurement currency, shows that overall time spent on digital news sites and apps is up 29% for March to date compared to the same period in February.

Advertisers say they understand and appreciate fully the value of trusted news sources.

"Australian advertisers will continue to make decisions on where their advertising appears based on what the community would deem appropriate and what is commercially sensible," says John Broome , CEO of the Australian Association of National Advertisers.

"If programmatic or other practices are leading to undesirable outcomes, advertisers and the Media Federation of Australia and others will need to work together to mitigate against any unintended outcomes."

Tereza Alexandratos, director, commercialisation and delivery at The Guardian Australia, says the coronavirus is one of the most important stories of the decade.

"Advertisers must be brave enough to have their messaging appear next to the stories that Australians are reading," she says.

"This approach offers the most effective advertising for brands, and for Guardian Australia, we need advertisers support more than ever to ensure our survival and continue reporting on this health crisis.”

Paul Sigaloff, managing drector, Verizon Media, says editorial staff have been working around the clock creating highly engaging and informative content for the Australian public which has led to 57% lift in audience.

"We understand the risks that advertisers are trying to avoid and we have brand safety measures to mitigate these risks," he says.

"In saying this, it is worth noting there is a clear distinction between blocking your advertising from somewhat risky or unsuitable content, and blocking it from what has become a cultural phenomenon. 

"For most brands, to block yourself from appearing against COVID-19, is to effectively block yourself from the consumer’s view. In that situation, your brands, the publishers and the Australian public miss the opportunity for relevant engagement.”

Alistair McEwan, SVP commercial development APAC, BBC Global News, says brands making lazy decisions to block or avoid news for their current advertising are not only hurting news publishers and journalism, they are missing a cast iron opportunity to connect with audiences.

"Now is the time to step up and not shrink into the shadows and I encourage brands and their agencies to work closely with publishers at this time to understand and deploy sensible and appropriate solutions," he says. 

Matt Rowley, CEO of pedestrian and Chair of the IAB Australia Board, says applying generic brand safety rules without fully considering whether the news organisation is legitimate and critical will cause brands more harm than good.

"We encourage all advertisers to take advantage of their ability to control with precision where their ads appear and to embrace the opportunity to support the ongoing production of news and journalism in these uncertain times.”," he says. 

Neil Robinson, managing drector digital solutions, News Corp, says the crisis is the dominant news story.

"It's important that brands understand that there can be no stigma attached to such far reaching essential news," he says.

"Appropriate, relevant and empathetic advertising on reputable and premium news sites around coronavirus content can be extremely powerful."

Peter Holder, managing director, Daily Mail Australia, says now is not the time for incessant chat about brand safety.

"It is a great opportunity for many brands to connect with very seriously engaged sets of eyeballs," he says. 

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