News industry joins with advertising bodies to back government’s call for brands not to block ads


The news industry has joined forces with advertisers and tech companies in calls to stop the ‘overzealous use of keyword blocking’ and allow adverts to appear next to coronavirus articles.  

Industry bodies have come together to support the message by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) by urging firms to end ‘ad-blocking’ on online articles about the pandemic and ‘play their part’ in supporting the UK news industry.

The move comes as the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told Britain’s 100 biggest brands, including Amazon, Sky and Tesco, to allow their adverts to appear next to coronavirus news stories and described news as ‘the fourth emergency service’.  

While online readership has soared as the public search for information on the crisis, publishers are finding it increasingly difficult to generate significant revenue from this and concerns have emerged that ‘overzealous’ keyword blocking of coronavirus-related terms is impacting their ability to monetise news content.

The news industry has joined with advertising companies in calls to stop the ‘overzealous use of keyword blocking’. (Stock image)

It comes as the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told Britain's 100 biggest brands to allow their adverts to appear next to coronavirus news stories

It comes as the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told Britain’s 100 biggest brands to allow their adverts to appear next to coronavirus news stories

The difficulty to generate revenue comes as marketing agency Newsworks said that if the pandemic were to last for another three months, news organisations in the country would see a major revenue hit.

Now calling on brands to review their use of keyword blocking during the coronavirus crisis, ISBA, which represents UK advertisers, IAB UK, which looks after digital advertising and IPA, which is in charge of agencies, are calling on their members to support their pleas and protect journalism. 

The leading bodies have also asked that advertisers take a balanced approach to keyword blocking and not inadvertently stop quality news content. 

Following the urgent calls, Mr Dowden shared his support in a letter to 100 major UK brands and said the media industry was ‘grappling with arguably the biggest existential crisis in its history’. 

Phil Smith, ISBA’s Director General, said: ‘We welcome the Secretary of State’s support for the joint-industry guidance in his letter. The use of keyword blocking is a critical component of how advertisers direct their advertising in the open display market. 

‘But by making best use of content verification technologies, brands can avoid the sort of blanket approach that may lead to them inadvertently blocking trusted news sources, whilst maintaining brand safety. 

‘This is particularly important during this crisis. We encourage all ISBA members to take account of the guidance available to them through our knowledge hub.’

Meanwhile Jon Mew, IAB UK’s CEO, said: ‘Protecting a brand’s safety online remains hugely important for advertisers, but taking a multi-faceted and nuanced approach to the brand safety solutions that content verification technologies can offer is far more effective and responsible than blanket keyword blocking. 

‘While this has been an issue the industry has been jointly working on for a while, the current crisis accelerates the need to protect all parts of the digital ecosystem – particularly at a time when we’re heavily relying on the ad-funded web to stay informed.’

The calls come as publishers find it increasingly difficult to generate significant revenue amid the Covid-19 outbreak due to 'ad-blocking' features. (Stock image)

The calls come as publishers find it increasingly difficult to generate significant revenue amid the Covid-19 outbreak due to ‘ad-blocking’ features. (Stock image)

Mr Dowden said in a tweet yesterday that major national and regional papers have partnered with the Government to reinforce the message of #StayHome

Mr Dowden said in a tweet yesterday that major national and regional papers have partnered with the Government to reinforce the message of #StayHome

Also sharing his support, Nigel Gwilliam, IPA’s Director of Media Affairs, said it was important to ensure news organisations receive appropriate advertising to support their ‘essential coverage of the crisis’. 

He said: ‘The coronavirus is our common enemy. And at times like this we must unite against it. On a mass scale by staying at home. And on an industry scale by uniting to ensure the keyword blocking of coronavirus-related terms is not overzealous. 

‘By doing this our industry can ensure trusted news brands receive appropriate advertising support to their essential coverage of the crisis.’ 

Yesterday, Mr Dowden urged firms in the UK to end ‘ad-blocking’ on online articles about the pandemic and support the UK news industry. 

The politician also urged people to continue buying newspapers – which he called the UK’s ‘fourth emergency service’ – as they suffer from a drop in advertising and sales.

He said the press was ‘grappling with arguably the biggest existential crisis in its history’ with national, regional and local papers all under huge financial pressure.

The news industry has warned that titles stand to lose £50million during the crisis, with Reach and the Press Association agency already forced to furlough staff.

Mr Dowden (pictured at the Cabinet Office in London on March 12) urged top businesses to allow their adverts to appear next to online coronavirus stories

Mr Dowden (pictured at the Cabinet Office in London on March 12) urged top businesses to allow their adverts to appear next to online coronavirus stories 

Mr Dowden wrote in The Times: ‘These are exceptional circumstances and the wide-scale blocking of advertising appearing next to Covid-19 related stories cannot be right at a time when there is a clear public interest in people having access to reliable, trusted news content.

‘An irreversible decline in news publishing would have far-reaching implications for everyone.

‘I urge you, as a responsible business at this crucial time, to play your part in supporting the news sector by reviewing the guidance and your business’s application of it.’

The minister also encouraged readers to ‘do their bit for democracy’ by buying a newspaper.

He said: ‘Newspapers are at heart of the British media and essential to its vibrant mix. People across the country are rising to the coronavirus challenge and I suggest we all add one small thing to our to-do list: buy a paper.’  

Mr Dowden had said in a tweet yesterday that major national and regional papers have partnered with the Government to reinforce the message of #StayHome.

The 41-year-old politician added that this was another example of ‘the vital role trusted new organisations are playing in our response to the crisis’. 

Newsquest, one of the largest regional news publishers in the UK, has put a ‘significant number’ of its staff on furlough and warned others will face wage cuts.

In London, City AM halted its daily print edition for commuters and put the majority of its staff on furlough.

The London Evening Standard reduced its daily print run and will also furlough some staff and cut pay because of a fall in advertising revenue.

The Press Association, an agency which supplies copy to newspapers, has furloughed 44 of its sports and racing journalists.

Earlier this month, newspaper publishers warned in a letter that they face losing £50million during the lockdown because of advertising ‘blocklists’.

Tracy De Groose, executive chair of the trade body Newsworks, who wrote the letter on behalf of the industry, said it was vital that advertisers removed coronavirus from their blocklists.

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