What You Miss When Your Brand Blacklists News

Nicole McCormack / May 2, 2018

I’m all for brand safety. I’m a long-suffering champion of the cause of context in an industry that seemingly believed all eyeballs were created equal, and I shaped my career around quality brands and environments, from Martha Stewart to Flipboard.

It’s clear that I’m no longer in the minority: brand safety is now one of the industry’s top concerns. In this year’s “Marc Pritchard moment” at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting in February (this year’s version of Marc Pritchard’s industry-shaping speech of 2017), Keith Weed, CMO of Unilever, took the brand safety topic to the next level. In a statement issued ahead of his speech, Weed said: “As a brand-led business, Unilever needs its consumers to have trust in our brands. We can’t do anything to damage that trust—including the choice of channels and platforms we use.”

I absolutely applaud Unilever’s effort to push the social media titans to accept the responsibility that comes with their power to disseminate information and ideas. But as we do so often in this industry, I fear we’re starting to swing the pendulum too far in the other direction on brand safety. More and more brands are eliminating high quality news publications entirely from their media diet, all in the name of brand safety.  This is an extremely blunt solution to a complex problem — like wielding an axe in a situation that requires a carefully considered scalpel.

News is valuable.  News audiences are highly valuable.  In fact, people who follow news topics on Flipboard are 40 percent more likely to be college educated, 53 percent more likely to have a household income greater than $150,000, and 43 percent more likely to be business decision-makers*.  They’re curious and thoughtful, educated and affluent. They’re leaders who can influence others and inspire the world. And yes, they consume the news.

In today’s political climate, news is increasingly becoming a passion for many people. At Flipboard, we’ve seen a 25 percent increase in news consumption in the past 9 months*. And guess what? When people are pursuing their passions and investing time to get smarter about the things that matter to them, they’re more receptive to information — even from brands. Research shows that advertising impact, from ad recall to brand favorability to purchase intent, increases. So by avoiding news, you’re not only missing out on an extremely valuable audience, you’re missing out on that valuable audience in the right mindset that makes them most receptive to your messaging.   

A client recently told us at Flipboard that they could not partner with us because a third party vendor classifies us as a “news” platform, and they are forbidden from advertising in “news” as part of their brand safety policy.  This despite the fact that news content accounts for only 5 percent of content consumed monthly on Flipboard. People are interested in news on Flipboard, but they’re clearly interested in lots of other content as well.

Furthermore, our plan was to target this brand to highly relevant non-news passions such as home, design, and DIY.  A home goods retailer would clearly want access to our audience of 2M consumers who follow these topics and come to us for inspiration on how to spend their time and money on home improvement projects.  In fact, our audience is 57 percent more likely to be doing a home renovation project and 60 percent more likely to buy furniture and accessories*. Unfortunately at present moment, this retailer will miss out on this terrific opportunity to put their brand in front of these home improvers simply because of a blanket “news” label from a third party vendor.

Sure, news can be polarizing — but not all news is created equal.  When the news coverage is balanced and informative and provides perspective, it’s highly valuable to the consumer. And consumers appreciate that value and the publishers and brands who support and enable it.  

I fear we’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Let’s get smarter about our approach. Implement block lists for the most divisive domains and sensational stories. That’s smart. But let’s not label an entire category of high quality journalism and an entire audience of passionate, curious, involved, thoughtful, and influential people off limits because we’re relying on blunt tools. Let’s not be that lazy.  The hard-working journalists of this world and the publications that empower them, as well as your brand and your customers, deserve better than a one-size-fits-all, blunt approach to this important industry issue. Let’s find a smarter solution together.  

~Nicole McCormack is reading eMarketer


Sources: Datalogix March 2018 (Followers of news) 153 Index HHI$150K+, Dun & Bradstreet March 2018 (Followers of news):143 Index Executive position, 153 Index VP-level position, Visa March 2018 (Followers of news): 120 Index for high spenders at online retailers, Source: Oracle March 2018 (Followers of news): 140 Index for college educated, Flipboard Internal Data: Overall news readership has increased 10% from June 2017 to March 2018. More users are reading news articles in their “For You” feed; readership is up 26% from June 2017 to March 2018, Flipboard Internal Data March 2018: DIY: 885K, Design: 625K, Home & Entertaining: 1.6M; About 2M across these interests, Datalogix March 2018 (all Flipboard U.S. readers): Home Renovation Customers Index 157, Furniture & Accessories Customers Index 160.