“The Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.
Marketers often tout that their products are sustainable and their missions – their very reasons for existing – are purpose-driven.
But, too often, sustaining democracy ranks low on their list of causes.
At the outset of the pandemic, several brands bluntly blocked their ads from any websites that mentioned the word “coronavirus.” At that moment, when informing the public through news and information was urgent, marketers were choking off potential revenue for news enterprises.
While some of these marketers eventually corrected course, my concern is that some brands are continuing to do a disservice to the public good.
A significant number of advertisers aren’t just steering clear of bad news or hot-button issues. They’re staying away from news content entirely.
However, there are ways that digital news publishers, with help from the ad tech ecosystem, can assuage concerns and steer marketers away from misguided decisions. I believe it will take a three-pronged approach:
1. News publishers need to make a more compelling business case
As much as I’d like to appeal to CMOs’ senses of morality, they are in an increasingly ROI-obsessed industry. Pressure continues to mount. We must meet marketers where they are.
Some news publishers are well-positioned to tap into the booming retail media space through product reviews and affiliate marketing. Yet this won’t work for everyone. Luckily, the news category has another, far more potent degree of influence that can be better leveraged.
Right now, as CEOs across the globe race to prove to investors that they are focusing on meeting zero-carbon emission goals while hoping to exert more influence on world leaders, news publishers command the audience and influence perhaps best-suited to these endeavors.
To take advantage of these opportunities, publishers must demonstrate value by investing in research-confirming attributes that we take for granted – such as the purchasing power of news consumers – as well as the sway they wield. Programmatic software data can play an integral role here.
2. We must turn the technology solution in publishers’ favor
In the programmatic ad ecosystem, we constantly espouse the power and precision of our targeting tools. We need to use this power on the news business – not in the name of brand safety but brand advocacy.
Instead of standing back and allowing marketers to eschew controversial topics or steer clear of news altogether, it’s incumbent upon news organizations and ad tech professionals to better channel the advantages of news.
Perhaps that takes the form of collaborative selling or joint investments in AI designed to package “safer news” for marketers via automated software. Or perhaps we amplify this effort by pulling together top ad tech companies to help establish a “safe news” SSP.
3. Embrace the identity changes – and help shape the solutions
Beyond using ad tech for targeting purposes, we also need to find ways to remind brands that news readers are consumers with diverse and mature interests. This audience features a range of characteristics that are attractive to brands.
One way to accomplish this is to embrace new forms of broader ad categorization/targeting, such as Google Topics, or any number of emerging contextual targeting efforts. The more we, as an industry, push to ensure that our audience is well-represented via these newer models, the more we will be able to pull in ad spending that isn’t entirely news-centric.
Certainly, this won’t be easy. Digital publishing has long been a demanding business in the best of times. Our world is only getting more complex, often volatile, and the news can be challenging to digest. Yet that’s exactly why news organizations are so vital. We desperately need to find and implement sustainable, multipronged business models.
Yes, we should continue to appeal to marketers’ sense of responsibility. However, we must better demonstrate, measure and deliver the meaningful value of engaging customers with journalism that matters.