Why can’t brands speak to both my kids?

Christopher Kenna, CEO & Co-Founder of Brand Advance explores the digital media landscape, brand safety, and keyword blocking and invites brands to consider how they can reach every community.

Christopher Kenna, Brand Advance
CEO & Co-Founder

There has been quite a bit of talk lately regarding keyword blocking and brand safety and how this is a factor in why many brands are not reaching potentially whole communities. It can also mean their products and services are not being seen digitally. I wanted to give my personal view on this.

I’m a gay, mixed-race male. Before I started working in the world of media and advertising I served in the British Army with tours of Iraq, Germany, and Afghanistan. I was also bringing up two children, one of whom is basically white while the other is mixed race. It might seem strange to say this but bear with me.

Skip forward many years and a lot of life-changing experiences; I’m now working in an industry I truly love. But it has one major problem. The digital media landscape, due to blacklists – personally think this word should be banned – and brand safety key-word block requests by both agencies and brands, cannot reach both my children and even me equally.

A recent survey by VICE Media brought this to the forefront. Other surveys have found that up to 57% of neutral or positive stories on major publications are incorrectly flagged as unsafe for advertising. When you start to look at media across LGBTQ+, BAME, or even disability this percentage can rise dramatically. 73% of safe LGBTQ+ related news content is being blocked, a statistic that was recently brought to discussion by Ben Cohen, CEO at Pink News, when he said “A lot of ad networks are blocking the word lesbian because they lazily think the word lesbian equals porn”.

Wouldn’t that be a great PR story for a brand; how their ad spend gave space to the voices of the unheard.

Christopher Kenna

The reason I earlier mentioned the ethnicity of both my children is because of several realities. Not only are the brand safety policies blocking brands access to me and the other 4.8m (£81 billion spends) of the LGBTQ+ community in the UK and $1 Trillion in the US. But also, because words like a black, hood, Asian and interracial are some of the tops blocked words on the internet. Brands can reach one of my children with ease but my mixed-race son who spends far too much time on the internet reading about computer games, or music and fashion publications related to his ethnicity; we/the industry cannot reach him.

The industry is waking up to this because of the work of people like Jerry Daykin, Head of Media at GSK, who alongside myself, is making it a personal mission to ensure all agencies and brands consider this when reviewing current brand safety policies.

There is also another angle to consider. If advertisers are blocking access to these publications, then how can we expect them to survive? And, when they start to fall away, like the recent closure of Gay Star News, who will pick up the voices of these communities?

This is also coupled with the fact that ad dollars being spent on these engaged publications trickles down into these communities through wages and initiatives. This allows the whole industry to ensure that consumer spending is doing some good in the community and world. And wouldn’t that be a great PR story for a brand; how their ad spend gave space to the voices of the unheard.

There is nothing worse than highlighting a problem without giving some steer at a solution: My key takeaways

Brand teams should review periodically whether their keyword blocks are actually still needed; you might find some that can be updated.

Look to work with media networks that reach all these diverse communities globally in a safe manner on a contained, brand-safe network. Brand Advance is one such diversity media network, but we are not the only one so do shop around.

Consider how your brand can reach all communities and ensure it’s not missing out on these large pockets of spend which include £81 billion from the LGBT community, £300 billion from the BAME community, £250 billion from those people with a disability and £150 billion from the over 50s. Reaching these individuals authentically in a contextually relevant manner can only add to your bottom line.


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