Blocklists are “operations with a guillotine,” so Dow Jones developed a branded safety device

There is still a lot of room for improvement in addressing brand safety in the industry, but the move away from comprehensive keyword blocklists is gaining traction.

For its part, Dow Jones developed an artificial intelligence tool to sharpen advertisers' keyword blocklists and make them appropriate and relevant to the company's three stocks. In this way, the volume of monetizable inventory has tripled and the reach and effectiveness of advertising campaigns has improved.

In April, Dow Jones began offering the SafeSuite brand security tool as part of its range of products to encourage advertisers to spend more while coronavirus-driven marketing budgets were running out. The tool takes advertisers' keyword blocklists, which are used to keep ads away from inappropriate or unsafe online content, but often general news content, and downsizes them to be more relevant to the Wall Street Journal, MarketWatch, and Barron.

“There is a spectrum. [Advertisers] Avoiding news altogether is like guillotine surgery, ”said Josh Stinchcomb, Dow Jones chief revenue officer. "The default is to expand the blocklist, which is still over the top, like an operation with a hatchet, but there are scalpels."

According to Comscore, Dow Jones had 98.4 million monthly visitors worldwide in August. The publisher wouldn't share how much revenue they lost to overzealous keyword blocking from advertisers, but their focus on business and finance meant they were better protected compared to general news publishers.

A $ 4.1 billion hole in advertising revenue

The past six months have been tough for news publishers' ad revenue. The focus is on keyword blocking: any overlapping crisis in the news cycle prompts advertisers to add more words to their lists to avoid their ads appearing alongside unsafe or inappropriate content. Publishers like Gannett's USA Today and Dow Jones expect an increase in companies blocking ads from election-related stories.

So far, extreme keyword blocking in the US has cost US news publishers $ 4.1 billion this year, according to an estimate by cybersecurity firm Cheq. March was the high point and depressed programmatic advertising revenue for publishers. However, the situation has improved significantly, said Stevan Randjelovic, director of brand security and digital risk for EMEA at GroupM: In a sample of data, "coronavirus" and its derivatives are no longer in the top 15 words on the agency's client blocklists .

Tech company Integral Ad Science saw an 80% decrease in keyword blocking related to coronavirus from mid-March to early May, thanks to more sophisticated AI contextual tools that read page sentiments and avoid over-blocking news content.

"Overall, keyword blocking is 30% lower than in the same period last year," said Joe Barone, Managing Partner, Brand Security Americas at GroupM, due to "reducing the blocking of exact match keywords in favor of more granular semantic avoidance." Barone added that about 5% of GroupM's blocking activity in the US is related to President Donald Trump or the elections.

Relevant lists increase the yield

Even so, blocklists persist, and the Dow Jones has seen some grow. The blacklist provided by a tech customer was 763 words that blocked 55% of positive and only 81% of negative. SafeSuite reduced this list to just 42 words and blocked 90% of negative articles and only 23% of positive articles. SafeSuite reduced its block list by 85% for a luxury customer.

It's not just about shrinking the list though – understanding the suitability of the item alongside the branding message is key. For example, at MarketWatch, a story could include that a company went public and the tool recognizes the item's suitability for ad placement. Using the tool increased the campaign's click-through rate for its luxury client by 10% compared to using a client-supplied list, Stinchcomb said.

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