Agencies, brands, and platform analysts alike started blacklisting“coronavirus” and related keywords en masse – but is that the right move?


Why block coronavirus content

We get it. Coronavirus content is not positive right now. In this already nerve-wracking, dire, and uncertain time, the last thing you want is for a consumer to notice your brand’s ad next to a news story about new reported cases, the latest unemployment rate, or worse (and there is worse). And with demand-side platforms (including Bidtellect) able to block based on keyword or even sentiment (negative), it is possible to eliminate that possibility.

Coronavirus news is everywhere

But it’s a daunting task: there are probably more than 15 billion or web pages per month talking about COVID-19. It’s taken over every news site, from current events (The New York Times waved subscription pricing for coronavirus coverage) to fashion (one of Marie Claire’sheadline stories today is “Top Beauty Products to Try in Isolation”).

82% are actively seeking out Coronavirus news and content online, according to IAS, and 87% are consuming more news generally because of the evolving Coronavirus situation. “Coronavirus content” is ubiquitous and its readers are ravenous. As this pandemic continues to march across the world, citizens will continue to consume information at a rate their lives literally depend on.

And yet..The great irony of the coronavirus crisis is its driven massive growth in news consumption, but publishers are unable to monetize it. News publishers are twice as likely to be blacklisted vs. others. 98% of sell-side respondents say they are expecting a decrease in revenue in2020, according to new IAB findings.

IAB: ‘save lives’

IAB published a rallying cry: save the industry, save lives: do not block coronavirus content. “We ask all brands, agencies, ad verification firms, and other companies in the digital advertising supply chain not to block the news… Don’t block them. Don’t block them at all.” Every dollar spent on a publisher’s site enables them to continue publishing news, spreading information, and saving lives.


According to Bidtellect’s platform data, we have seen a 23% increase in traffic on News-related sites since the coronavirus outbreak started.

Increase in news traffic + decrease in impression costs

So here’s the current situation: coronavirus news is everywhere.Period. If you prevent your ads from appearing next to coronavirus content, where will it end up? You are severely limiting your reach and frequency, and limiting your audience potential.

According to our platform, we have seen on average a 32% increase in traffic on Business/finance-related sites we are attributing to coronavirus, a 23% increase in traffic on News-related sites, and a 27%increase in traffic on Health-related sites. Meanwhile, we’ve tracked a 17.1% decrease in average impression costs from January 2020 to March 2020. In Managed Service offerings, we saw a 33% drop in CPM from February 1 to March 31 and a 31% drop in CPC.

Overall the increase in traffic on News should indicate that this is an area advertisers should look to spend more budget and be less concerned around coronavirus-related brand safety. If you are aggressive in keyword blocks, you are likely missing out on a lot of eyeballs. With impression costs lower, it’s a “buyers market.” Hello ROI.

Does an ad next to coronavirus content really matter?

It’s normal to want to keep a brand’s ads and logos away from inappropriate content, but there’s nothing normal about today’s current global health crisis. Over half of consumers have reported some level of concern around brands advertising on COVID-19content, according to Integral Ad Science. 78% of US internet users said their view of a brand whose ad was adjacent to coronavirus coverage would be unchanged (IAS). Only a mere 16% say they are NOT likely to engage with an ad adjacent to Coronaviruscontent (Integral Ad Science).

It’s not all damaging; especially if you do your creatives right.

Many publishers provide high-quality content in a premium environment to a highly engaged audience. Instead of blanket blocking, ask yourself where you might be able to “lean in” to content that is currently online (IAS). With so much information out there, make sure to cut through the noise: communicate your message in your creatives clearly. Consider offering support, promotions, or ways to help consumers save, and even a break from the somber tone. Refresh your ad creatives to nourish and bring hope.

Don’t block coronavirus content. It will hurt your advertising efforts more than it will help.

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Charlotte Otremba is Sr. Manager of Communications and Marketing at Bidtellect.

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