Many brands have turned to blacklists during the global pandemic, using obvious words and character strings “coronavirus” and “COVID 19”. While we recognise that this an attempt to ensure their ads don’t appear alongside online content harmful to their brands, evidence is emerging that this approach is unnecessarily strict and likely to have a string of unintended consequences. In particular, the impact on news brand websites has been severe, and news industry body Newsworks believes this could amount to a £50m revenue loss in the U.K. alone. News brands in the US and elsewhere are experiencing a similar impact.

In the UK, industry bodies ISBA, the IPA, and the IAB have stepped in to publish clear guidance to brands on this topic, and the UK’s Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, has further encouraged brands to take a more nuanced approach in a letter to 100 major brands, as published in Campaign. We fully support these initiatives – as well as the important role of news brands to society and as part of a healthy media ecosystem. Below please find my letter to Oliver Dowden in full support of this initiative, and offering our assistance where helpful.



Dear Mr. Dowden,

I write in support of your campaign to protect the UK news media as the ‘fourth emergency service’ and in particular your efforts to persuade advertisers to reconsider their use of COVID-19 keyword blacklisting.

As an independent international media and marketing consultancy that advises 70 out of the top 100 global advertisers on best use of over £55 billion annual marketing spend that we analyse each year, Ebiquity plc is actively advising clients to take a more nuanced approach to blanket blacklists.

Naturally at the moment almost all content in news, online and offline, currently has at least some reference to the pandemic. With the world on lockdown and so many people desperate for understanding, news brands around the world not only have an important role to play to society, as evidenced by their record audiences, but they are also an important component to a healthy and effective advertising landscape.

Advertising placed alongside pandemic-related news is currently generating 21% more attention than usual, according to research by Lumen. Furthermore, seeing ads in the context of hard news about the pandemic does not automatically make consumers transfer the emotions from the editorial content to the brands advertised.

Ebiquity believes in a transparent, trusted, and accountable marketing ecosystem. We also believe that advertisers can play a responsible role in supporting journalists and journalism by refining their advertising strategy and indeed should recognise that investing in marketing now will help them emerge stronger in the future.

That’s why we are advising brands who are still able to trade and for whom it makes sense to advertise to take a more nuanced approach to the use of keyword blacklists and to their media choices.

For those still able to trade and able to advertise with the right tonality of messaging our message is clear: the current media environment actually provides a real opportunity to grow share of voice and share of market. Not only are ads commanding more attention and working harder than ever before, they are also more affordable than ever.

If Ebiquity can in any way support your campaign or share with you our live and bespoke market insight, then we would only be too happy to help.

Yours sincerely,

Christian Polman, Chief Strategy Officer, Ebiquity plc


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