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One Man’s Blocked Ad is Another Man’s Treasure

Greek philosopher Heraclitus likely wasn’t talking about the advertising industry when he said, “Change is the only constant in life,” but he might as well have been. Technology begets the opportunity for continual innovation, presenting both challenges for advertisers as well as ample opportunity. As an organization that operates within a unique donated media model, the Ad Council must find creative ways to navigate some of the industry’s changes. And ad-blocking is one area where our organization has demonstrated how we can successfully do so, by finding donated media ‘diamonds in the rough.’


The first digital banner ad went live in 1994, and ad-blocking entered the scene roughly a decade later. The initial intention of ad-blocking was to give individual online users the ability to protect their digital experience; to quell the constant interruption and bombardment of ‘pop-up’ banners. But in our current day and age, ad-blocking is also widely used by advertisers themselves. Brand Safety is an increasingly important topic among advertisers, and ad-blocking helps brands implement brand safety measures. Ad blocking can keep brands’ advertisements away from content they think might deter their customers. Content deemed not brand-safe can vary immensely depending on advertiser and what they’re trying to accomplish. At large, advertisers have grown increasingly apprehensive to run in news content for fear of alienating or offending their audiences.


Ad placement next to political content could deter consumers’ purchase intent depending on the consumer’s political identification. But for brands or organizations that don’t share the same worry, this presents an opportunity to benefit from high quality, valuable media impressions. Some media companies are proactively developing solutions to ensure no inventory goes unused. For example, Teads has developed a PSA program to allow pro-bono placement in their news content. Cadreon currently offers a similar opportunity to Ad Council campaigns in which our digital banner PSAs are offered when client ads don’t serve.

Despite wanting to avoid polarizing media environments, paying advertisers aren’t reducing their overall digital ad-spend. Au contraire, annual digital ad spend is projected to increase by $22 billion in 2020, exceeding $151 billion (eMarketer, 2019). Ad-monitoring technology allows advertisers to specify certain words they want to keep their ads from appearing near. Integral Ad Science published a list of the top fifteen ‘Forbidden’ words advertisers are choosing to blacklist, or keep their ads away from (see below image). This means that advertisers don’t have to walk away from political, or other non brand-safe, media environments entirely. Their paid ad placement simply shifts to a unit of inventory not affected by the ‘forbidden’ word, and the media publisher uses another ad, like a PSA, to fill the original unit.


Often-times PSAs don’t have the same brand-safety concerns as advertisers trying to ‘win over’ a customer and convert product sales. This scenario ends up being mutually beneficial for all parties—media companies, advertisers and non-profits like the Ad Council. Paying advertisers want to protect their brands, Media companies need to fill their ad placements with quality content, and Ad Council campaigns need high quality inventory on premium platforms, making this opportunity a match made in pro-bono media heaven. With the 2020 Presidential election on the horizon and the increasing presence of political news media, Ad Council aims to continue exploring ways we can offer solutions to media publishers and advertisers alike.


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