Executive head of strategy at Starcom UK Dan Plant writes for New Digital Age.
Advertisers have always wanted to be close to the news. Since the early 1600s businesses have identified the potential to publicise their goods and services in mass printed newspapers, sharing space with stories that people cared about and making their own messages more newsworthy.
That connection between news and advertising has never gone away. When I started my career, the first ad I bought was in The Times for Virgin Trains. They had a BIG sale on so it had to be booked as MN – that is “Main News” – Virgin wanted their price reduction to be big news, so they didn’t want to be buried amongst celeb gossip, they wanted to be surrounded by equally important news stories.
Every big brand advertiser wanted the same thing; to be in the part of the newspaper that mattered the most and that was read by the most people. The bigger the news story, the better, and this advertising principle is still true today in printed news.
Given this, it is baffling to hear that those same news publishers are now struggling to monetise those news sections online. The proliferation of blocklists has meant vast amounts of high quality, journalist-led “Main News” inventory is being picked up at rock bottom rates or not being sold at all. The programmatic models are leaving it on the shelf due to being “controversial content”.
Now anyone with a brain in publishing recognises the need to be sensitive with regards to the placement of advertising around certain topics. Back when I was booking those Virgin Trains ads in 2000, the Hatfield train crash happened, killing a number of people. I had ads booked in the paper the following day, and we needed to pull them all. However, we didn’t even need to pick up the phone. Each of the newspapers recognised the potential problem and pulled the advertising unilaterally. We had a strong relationship of trust with those publishers – we shared customers and neither of us had an interest in causing upset or offence.
That’s why these extensive blocklists can be worrying. We seem to have replaced human intuition and a trust of quality publishers with an algorithm that is intelligent but without the human understanding.
As we know, publishers – like The Guardian’s Nick Hewat – have widely highlighted some of the unintended consequences of these blocklists and, in April, we saw the launch of the #BackdontBlock campaign led by the UK’s news brands. The IAB even launched a very comprehensive guide to keyword blocking, but we still need to look at why this might be happening and why we should be discouraging brands from the excesses of these behaviours.
1) The growth of adtech has allowed us to measure so much that we might believe we can quantify the value of everything and start to think that an impact against one of our audience is worth the same wherever it appears.
2) we have become very risk averse and believe that consumers will attribute negative sentiment of a news story to how they feel about a brand.
The reality is that neither of these beliefs is true.
Again, the premium for advertising in the main news section has always been significantly greater than the reach advantage, but we all paid that premium because it always paid back. Recent Newsworks neuroscience studies show greater dwell time and potential for memory encoding around hard news vs soft “news” stories.
Continue reading this article on New Digital Age here.
You can access all the Hard News research here.