In our coronavirus update to our annual Inflation Report, we revealed that an increased supply of inventory, teamed with decreased advertiser spending, will likely lead to dramatic deflation in the cost of traditional media across the world. Although not as dramatic, digital media are also seeing price drops in EMEA and North America (although they are more buoyant in APAC), as programmatic media adjusts directly to changes in offer and demand. However, there is an additional trend reducing the price drop for digital: the use of programmatic blacklists to block terms associated with coronavirus. A reduced drop in pricing might sound like good news for the digital media industry, but the blacklisting trend is having a dramatic impact on digital publishers.
Consumers living in lockdown are turning to digital channels to stay updated on the news and for entertainment – with increased eyeballs, it would seem to be the perfect time for advertisers to build awareness of their brands and their products. But many of them are squeamish about coronavirus-related content, and are turning to keyword blocking as a way of safeguarding their brands from appearing alongside content related to the pandemic – good or bad. Ad verification firm Integral Ad Science estimates that blacklisting during the pandemic has kept more than 1.3 billion ads from appearing next to content featuring the world ‘coronavirus’ – and that doesn’t include other terms such as ‘covid-19’ and ‘pandemic’. Of course, the pandemic has affected every aspect of society – healthcare, of course, but also the economy, work, sport, home life and retail – which means that ‘coronavirus’ appears in almost every news article published. The loss of ad revenue that comes from blocking coronavirus-related keywords is devastating for online publishers, to the extent that the future of many is at risk. This would be a huge blow not just for them, but for the many advertisers for whom appearing alongside high-quality journalism forms an important part of their advertising strategies.
A blanket approach to blacklisting is not necessary in this context. The IAB has been working to combat this practice, providing guidance to advertisers around how they can keep their brands safe and avoid embarrassment, whilst still supporting quality journalism and benefiting from the hugely increased and highly engaged audiences. The approach that the IAB recommends is pragmatic, harnessing tools and techniques which allow a multi-faceted, more nuanced approach, for example incorporating semantic and contextual solutions. More sophisticated tools can identify the context of an article: a news story that talks about local heroism or how to juggle working with home schooling will still mention coronavirus, but is a much safer context than a story that talks about the number of deaths in care homes, for example. Indeed, a more nuanced and thought-through approach regarding the selection of ad environments has always been advisable. As with domain lists, it is typically most efficient to focus on defining and selecting desirable environments and partners (whitelists) rather than the undesirable ones (blacklists). Domain and keyword blacklisting should be part of a strategy, rather than a strategy in itself; there is limited value in the longtail of domains in any case.
Messaging and creative is also important. A lot of the news right now is bad, but by striking the right tone, ads can add value to the reader’s experience. An appropriate tone could mean being helpful, providing products or services that benefit consumers, not exploiting the situation, offering reassurance or showcasing, with modesty, how you have helped. Global research carried out by by Kantar shows that the vast majority – 92% – of consumers do not expect brands to stop advertising during the pandemic.
Burger King is a great example of a brand that is getting the balance right. It rapidly adapted its messaging and creative as the virus spread, focusing on contactless food delivery and pick-up, which means its marketing doesn’t seem out of place in a news cycle that is relentlessly focused on the pandemic and on the lockdown restrictions across the world. As Burger King’s Head of Brand and Communications, Marcelo Pascoa, told The New York Times, ‘It isn’t damaging for the brand to appear within the context of the crisis, because the brand is playing a role’. Global CMO Fernando Machado, agrees, telling DigiDay, ‘Instead of relying on a block list, I would personally rather have us focus on making sure that whatever we put forward takes into consideration the context and that’s exactly what we did… We’re more relaxed about that because of the content we’re putting forward’. The company’s media strategy also reflects the different situation in each market: with restaurants closed in France, it doesn’t make sense to have TV, so investment has been focused on digital to keep engagement high, while in the US restaurants are still open for drive-through and delivery, so TV is more relevant.
There is huge value to be gained for brands who are willing to take a more nuanced approach to blacklisting. Digital audiences are much larger and much more engaged than normal, but prices are falling because of decreased demand from industries, such as travel and automotive, struck hardest by the pandemic. Now is a great time for brands who are in a position to spend to grow their share of voice and share of market by making the most of the increased value and appearing alongside quality news content which is attracting huge numbers of eyeballs. Premium placements with trusted news organizations are a great option as they are more likely to appear alongside thoughtful, less alarmist journalism.
It’s natural for brands to be more cautious in a global crisis such as this, with so much economic uncertainty making expensive brand safety errors something to be avoided at all costs. But at ECI Media Management we believe that this is an opportunity for those with budget to spend to benefit from increased return on investment. We’ll continue to provide forensic analysis and actionable insights so our clients can successfully navigate a media landscape that has transformed beyond all recognition, and plan their media activity during this crisis and beyond.
Read and download the Coronavirus Update to our Inflation Report here.
Discover our top 10 recommendations for advertisers during the coronavirus pandemic here.
Image: Anton Veselov/Shutterstock
In-housing has been a hot topic of discussion for the media industry for the last few years. Many major brands such as Vodafone, AB InBev and Clorox have taken elements of their business in-house. This is, on the face of it, a threat to the agency groups, some of whom have responded by creating in-housing consultancies to help their clients take their business in house. What are the advantages of in-housing, and what considerations should advertisers bear in mind?
Over the last two or three years, in-housing has become increasingly common: many of the world’s biggest advertisers now see it as a necessity. In 2018, the ANA found that 78% of its members had in-house agencies, up from 58% in 2013. In-housing takes many different forms, and there is no agreed definition – from producing creative for social media to taking all media buying activity in-house, it covers a full gamut of specialities and expertise.
So why is it happening? For many brands, the answer is straightforward: they want more control. According to Digiday research, that was the reason that 38% of marketers gave for taking activity in house. It gives them more control over their operations, their data, regulatory issues such as GDPR, measurement, performance and, ultimately, their spend. Data is of particular relevance in the in-housing debate: with an increased amount of consumer data available, the potential for improved messaging increases hugely, and it is attractive for brands to have more visibility over how it is used. This is of course especially important for regulatory purposes – with GDPR and now CCPA, controlling what data is used and how messaging shows up is more important than ever. In an age of fake news and privacy and brand safety concerns, control of data is key to a better understanding of the consumer journey and ensuring regulatory adherence.
Another important factor in the in-housing conversation is, of course, the matter of trust. Since the release of the ANA’s K2 report in 2016 which shone a light on agency transparency, trust between advertisers and their agencies has decreased sharply, particularly in more complex and ‘shady’ areas such as programmatic. The reaction for many has been to take at least some of their activity in-house, thereby taking back control and, in the long run, driving cost efficiencies. However, if the main reason for bringing activity in-house is transparency, a cheaper and more straightforward option could be to bring the adtech stack in-house and allow the media agency to work with it.
One of the reasons that in-housing has remained such a big topic of conversation has been the impact that it has had on agencies, particularly the big six holding companies who are losing major pieces of business. WPP, for example, suffered the loss of Walmart’s digital advertising business when the retailer decided to take it in-house, while Vodafone, AB InBev, Clorox, Unilever and American Express have all removed some parts of their activity from their agencies. This has caused some real soul-searching for agencies: it was one of new WPP CEO Mark Read’s key priorities when he took the job in 2018, and several have established in-housing consultancies, such as Dentsu Aegis agency Isobar’s new ‘Accelerate’ offering.
In reality, there will always be a place for agencies – indeed, many argue that it is helping to improve the health of the client-agency relationship. Agencies hold a huge amount of expertise and clout which is invaluable, particularly when it comes to media buying: indeed, Vodafone tried to bring media buying in-house but in April announced a $500m global review for its media planning and buying, suggesting that it hadn’t gone as well as envisaged.
Even for those pieces of business which have been successfully in-housed, successful partnerships are possible and even common. AB InBev, for example, took smaller creative activity, such as social media, in-house, freeing up time for their creative agency partner to focus on the bigger jobs such as the Super Bowl.
In-housing, if done with the right care and attention, can be a great success and drive significant cost efficiencies. However, there are some red flags to watch out for. It can lead a siloed approach that doesn’t enjoy the benefit of a holistic market or strategy view, particularly if communications channels with the agency running other parts of the business aren’t sufficiently open and free-flowing. It can also be very expensive and complex: setting up adtech stacks for programmatic in-housing, for example, and finding and retaining the right talent. Talent retention can be a particular challenge as, without due care, teams can become isolated from the latest innovation and inspiration from other categories. Brands looking at in-housing must interrogate their motives and objective and ensure that they are certain about what they are trying to achieve. They must also stay committed to learning and development in order to ensure teams stay inspired and up to date on the latest developments.
ECI Media Management can help our clients navigate the in-housing process and ensure that they are fully aware of the implications and important considerations. Please feel free to contact us to discuss how we can support you, and look at our top 10 considerations for taking your media buying in-house.