Are block lists making your content less diverse?

Block lists have long been a part of advertisers’ tool kits to avoid promoting or appearing alongside objectionable content. But, as The Drum Network member Adapt Worldwide’s Liam McNamee and Grace Bethell argue for our Deep Dive on Marketing and the Marginalized, can they go too far by blocking valuable content from underrepresented groups?

Recently, we’ve seen more brands demonstrating their social stance. And today, these brands are choosing to buy their media from a diverse range of creators and ethical sources.

However, businesses are under pressure to show their integrity and they fear that their advertisements might feature next to content that could be detrimental to their reputation.

Brand integrity is of the utmost importance. 54% of consumers said they would think negatively of a brand that runs ads alongside content designed by others whose morals don’t align with theirs.

The problem with block lists

But over-blocking content might do more harm than good.

A vast majority of businesses still adopt a cut-throat approach when it comes to protecting their brand’s reputation. This overprotective approach has led to a lot of content being excluded, even when it’s safe and suitable for your brand.

Industry-standard block lists contain a vast array of terms related to race, ethnicity and sexual orientation, blocking out all content related to those terms. As the Channel Factory said in their ‘conscious project’ earlier this year, “industry standard advertising practices [are] unfairly penalizing content creators within various groups, including the LGBT+ and BIPOC (Black, indigenous and people of color) communities, as well as content relating to important aspects of the human experience, including social issues, mental health and wellness and identity.”

Most companies do not update block lists regularly, causing a great deal of suitable content to be deemed harmful. Times have been changing quite rapidly over the last few years. Our lists of negative keywords may have been necessary in 2017, but today they could be pointless.

These outdated block lists harm marginalized communities in particular – overwhelming fear has led brands into the trap of unethical exclusion, blocking all content related to marginalized groups and communities.

This is a problem that needs urgent attention from our industry. Positioning yourself in the market as a diverse and inclusive business has never been more important. Today, 60% of consumers prefer to associate themselves with companies that actively show they are committed to creating an online experience that is inclusive for all.

The size of the problem

In 2019, CHEQ’s ‘how keyword blacklists are killing reach and monetization’ report looked at what types of content had been excluded from an industry-standard blacklist of 2,000 keywords.

The report found that 57% of safe articles were incorrectly flagged and blocked from serving ads, because brands had been using overprotective negative keyword lists and block lists.

These lists are incredibly harmful to creators and publishers, making them unable to monetize their own content.

How to make your advertising more inclusive

Of course, it’s important to focus our attention on brand safety. But as an industry, we need to think of new ways to implement brand safety without excluding creators based on their sexual orientation, race or ethnicity.

This new approach needs to be one that can monetize positive content, which means a more nuanced approach to blocking.

Block lists needn’t be removed completely, but you must review them regularly, alongside your brand safety processes. You should also white-list creators whose voices should be amplified, and pay close attention to your brand safety partnerships.

This final point is one we don’t see considered often enough. Working with a third-party brand safety and brand suitability partner can help with your brand safety measures. These third-party partners usually opt for human input, which ensures content is categorized with diversity in mind.

As an industry, we need to embrace changes to brand safety measures to ensure that we are not excluding words, phrases or languages that could exclude minority groups. It’s time to move forward with your approaches to brand safety. When we do, we’ll be creating an online world that promotes positivity and inclusivity.