Brands can save American lives during the coronavirus crisis by running ads next to news coverage of the pandemic

  • David Cohen is president of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a trade group for more than 650 leading media companies, brands, and the technology firms. He previously was president of Interpublic Group’s Magna, where he executed large global transactions for the ad holding company giant and its clients, including Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Spotify, Twitter, and Verizon Media.
  • He says it’s time for brands and agency executives to allow news and COVID-19 related information to run alongside all content.
  • Most brands don’t want to run campaigns beside bad news, but during a crisis, increasing viewer access to information is crucial.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

There is one simple, critical thing every brand and agency executive can — and must — do in the face of the coronavirus crisis. 

We ask all brands, agencies, ad verification firms, and other companies in the digital advertising supply chain not to block the news. 

This is not about politics — lives are at stake. All major brands and agencies have the ability to decide for themselves the 10, 20, 50, or 100 news organizations they deem legitimate and critical to our health, safety, and economy. Don’t block them. Don’t block them at all.

David Cohen, Interactive Advertising Bureau
David Cohen.
David Cohen

Please immediately instruct your brand and agency teams to update your programmatic and all other media buying to enable advertising surrounded by topics you would have previously avoided, including “crisis,” “COVID-19,” “coronavirus,” etc. The faster you do this, the more lives you will save. 

As Dr. Marc Lipsitch, professor of epidemiology at Harvard University put it, “In a pandemic, good info saves lives.”  

Having spent the last 20 years working closely with marketers on the agency side of the business, I know all the arguments about this first-hand.

Brands want to keep their ads and logo away from inappropriate content.  No airline wants to run an ad next to a news story about an airline crash.

That’s normal and understandable.

But there’s nothing normal about today’s current global health crisis. Solid, fact-based reporting educates, informs, and saves lives.

Brand safety must begin with consumer safety. Healthy consumers and a healthy economy are essential to healthy brands. 

America needs a vibrant, ad-supported news industry, and it has never needed it more. 

Every dollar you spend on credible news sites helps save lives through the following:

  • It ensures that credible news organizations can afford the staff required to provide critically vital information. 
  • It ensures that reckless disinformation efforts will be blunted by news that is accurate, fact-checked, and reliable.
  • It ensures that the public at large — the people who buy your products — stay alive and well.

This is not only a wise thing to do. It is not only kind. It is absolutely necessary.

It’s hard to calculate the precise economic impact of blacklisting coronavirus content, but it will unquestionably be significant. An analysis of UK premium news sites by Adyoulike showed a 40% decline in homepage targeting in ads transacted in the open market for the first 15 days of March.

You need healthy consumers and a healthy economy. Supporting credible news is the best way to maximize both. What’s more, news organizations are showing significant audience growth. Audiences are paying attention.

Open the floodgates of advertising dollars to support credible news sources. Don’t debate. Don’t delay. Do it now. 

The stakes are too high to do anything less.

  1. DO continue to support your brands and your business with advertising. DO NOT risk the long-term survival of your brands.
  2. DO instruct your brand and agency teams to immediately update your programmatic buying immediately to enable advertising on topics you would have previously avoided, including “crisis” “COVID-19,” “coronavirus,” etc. DO NOT wait for the situation to evolve.
  3. DO encourage your colleagues to take immediate action; tweet, post on LinkedIn, shout it from the rooftops. DO NOT underestimate your influence.
  4. DO urge trade organizations to join us in this rallying cry. DO NOT assume they’re already on top of this.
  5. DO provide customer service representatives with scripts to answer questions if any arise, such as, “we are advertising on these sites because this is a critical health issue facing all of our customers, and we want everyone to be well.” DO NOT assume your internal teams know what to do.
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