Since 2020, brands have made commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in their ad campaigns and spending. In response, a number of ad networks have cropped up that specialize in connecting advertisers to diverse audiences via partnerships with minority-owned and minority-led publishers.
My Code was ahead of that particular trend. It started in 2015 as H Code, an ad network representing publishers that cater to Hispanic audiences in the US. Its publisher inventory has since expanded, with offerings aimed at reaching Black and AAPI audiences, along with budding publisher networks for reaching women and the LGBTQ community.
Today, My Code’s ad network includes about 850 publishers. Using contextual signals, My Code develops audience graphs for brands to target their ad messages and further refines these audiences using third-party cookies, first-party data and insights gleaned from panel-based surveys.
My Code Founder and CEO Parker Morse believes the rise of multicultural ad networks over the past two years is great news for the advertising industry and for efforts to monetize minority-led publishers’ media inventory.
“It’s exciting for the multicultural and diverse marketing space to see investment in a bigger way. That investment helps make the ecosystem better,” Morse said. “One company is not going to be able to do everything.”
Scalability vs. specialization
However, with so many communities falling under the “diverse” umbrella, the media landscape among publishers that specialize in these disparate audiences is currently very fragmented, which causes problems for ad networks regarding scalability, Morse said.
“Without scale, it’s difficult to drive performance. And without performance, how long are brand marketers, who have numbers they need to hit in terms of ROI, going to increase their spend?” he said.
One way around the scalability problem is through specialization. Ad networks need to invest heavily in research to reach an audience group and create campaigns that will speak to those audiences in an authentic way, Morse said.
“We first set out to solve media execution at scale. From that, we learned the other challenges our clients had centered on creative and data,” he said. That led My Code to establish its research-focused Intelligence Center and a creative-focused content studio.
Curating creative and content
My Code’s research and content-creation arms tailor publishers’ content and brands’ campaign messaging to relevant audiences and specific niches within these audiences.
For example, My Code worked with Black lifestyle publisher Def Pen and Starbucks to create a cross-platform branded-content campaign that highlighted how two Black female Starbucks employees support their communities during the holiday season. My Code’s research into the type of messaging that resonates with Black audiences helped inform the tone and content of the campaign.
My Code also worked with GMC to promote the auto manufacturer’s line of Sierra trucks on social media and at the Hispanic Heritage Youth Awards. My Code’s research found that heritage and family are central to positive depictions of masculinity in Hispanic culture, so the campaign featured voice-overs from Hispanic men explaining how their trucks allow them to work hard to provide for their families.
My Code is expanding its operations into Mexico, where its current team numbers 20 employees. It struck an exclusive partnership with Mexico-based publisher Grupo Imagen to handle its US programmatic business and create editorial content calibrated to resonate with US-based Hispanic audiences. That approach has helped Grupo Imagen to court more interest from big-name US brands, according to Grupo Imagen Business Development Director Alfredo Martell. The relationship also boosted Grupo Imagen’s CPMs and fill rates, Martell said, although he declined to offer specifics.
Another of My Code’s partners, RocketOne, found it difficult to monetize its portfolio of 13 publisher sites, such as Hypespanic and Black Producer, at startup until it was recruited into My Code’s ad network, said RocketOne Founder and CEO Tedy Fugel. Now, My Code handles all of RocketOne’s programmatic business conducted via Prebid.
“Other partners require you to have tens of millions of impressions per month before you even get considered to be part of their network,” Fugel said. “Driving revenue for these sites and actually getting them into market is something I probably would not have been able to do on my own.”
RocketOne’s experience speaks to the difficulty big name brands have in working with newer, smaller publishers, even ones that are purpose-built to reach diverse audiences. Ad networks can bridge the gap between the two sides, enabling brands to honor their commitments to drive a percentage of their ad spend to these publishers.
“The last two years have seen active engagement from existing clients going even deeper into the market, and new ones that have never been in the space before,” Morse said. Nearly two years after the murder of George Floyd spurred brands into action, “it’s going to be interesting to see if these efforts have created a new floor for what brands spend toward multicultural audiences, or if it is a new ceiling.”
Given demographic trends in the US, Morse leans toward optimism and believes these spending commitments represent a new floor.
“You can’t deny the fact that the population is shifting and changing, and the US will be 50% non-white at some point in the future,” he said. “Brands that realize that now are going to be better positioned in the future than ones that don’t.”