Industry bodies representing UK advertisers, agencies, publishers and ad tech companies have come together in support of a message by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) calling on brands to review their use of keyword blocking during the COVID-19 outbreak.

It follows concerns that overzealous keyword blocking of coronavirus-related terms is impacting publishers’ ability to monetise news content.

Newsworks recently said that if the pandemic lasts for another three months, news brands are expected to see a major revenue hit.

ISBA (representing UK advertisers), IAB UK (the industry body for digital advertising) and IPA (representing agencies) are contacting members in support of the Government’s message and have jointly published specific advice on how to responsibly review content verification strategies in the current climate. It has been shared by Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden MP in a letter to 100 major UK brands.

“We welcome the Secretary of State’s support for the joint-industry guidance in his letter. The use of keyword blocking is a critical component of how advertisers direct their advertising in the open display market. But by making best use of content verification technologies, brands can avoid the sort of blanket approach that may lead to them inadvertently blocking trusted news sources, whilst maintaining brand safety. This is particularly important during this crisis. We encourage all ISBA members to take account of the guidance available to them through our knowledge hub,” said Phil Smith, ISBA’s Director General.

This is backed by a joint statement from leading content verification providers, co-ordinated by IAB UK. It supports the Government’s call to protect journalism and asks advertisers to liaise with their verification providers to ensure they are using the technologies most effectively to protect their campaigns while not inadvertently blocking quality news content.

The action is part of a wider, cross-industry campaign, also including Newsworks and the AOP, which aims to encourage advertisers to take a balanced approach to keyword blocking at this time – helping to support brands, publishers and the overall sustainability of the ad industry. 

“Protecting a brand’s safety online remains hugely important for advertisers, but taking a multi-faceted and nuanced approach to the brand safety solutions that content verification technologies can offer is far more effective and responsible than blanket keyword blocking. While this has been an issue the industry has been jointly working on for a while, the current crisis accelerates the need to protect all parts of the digital ecosystem – particularly at a time when we’re heavily relying on the ad-funded web to stay informed,” commented Jon Mew, CEO of IAB UK.

“The coronavirus is our common enemy. And at times like this we must unite against it. On a mass scale by staying at home. And on an industry scale by uniting to ensure the keyword blocking of coronavirus-related terms is not overzealous. By doing this our industry can ensure trusted news brands receive appropriate advertising support to their essential coverage of the crisis,” added Nigel Gwilliam, IPA’s Director of Media Affairs.