Tech sector and publisher partner to counter coronavirus keyword blocklist issues

Charlie Spargo's picture

Commercial news publisher Reach has joined up with IBM and Xandr - AT&T's advertising arm - to counter the current issue surrounding blanket blocklists and COVID-19 keywords.

Advertisers generally plan for their content to only be visible on positive stories, and current capabilities mean that specific keywords blacklist articles, regardless of the article's wider theme. Right now, with coronavirus having an influence over almost everything in the news and beyond, publishers are losing out enormously on advertising revenue due to a blanket ban on 'coronavirus'.

This is not helped by falling ad spends and a general tightening of belts in the advertising industry. Recently, the news industry implored advertisers to temporarily stop the use of blocklists if they wanted to protect valuable - but struggling - British journalism through this crisis.

Reach’s service, called Mantis - launched in October 2019 - is a semantic solution powered by IBM Watson's Natural Language Processing, which verifies whether news content is safe for brands, available through Xandr’s advertising technology platform.

When it comes to positive or 'neutral' coronavirus stories, which might not be in the majority but are well-represented, advertising can be directed to appear only alongside news stories categorised as neutral and positive - whether it's ideas for home workouts, stories about recovery numbers, or celebrations like #clapforourcarers.

The inventory of safe pieces is available across multiple premium UK publishers, meaning brands can reach national scale. Mantis is expected to free up more than 70% of content currently blocked by keyword targeting that stops advertising appearing alongside terms like “coronavirus”.

Benjamin Pheloung, General Manager for Mantis, said: “There’s no reason why a brand shouldn’t want to have an advert placed next to a positive story, like one about sports and media personality Gary Lineker donating two months' wages to the Red Cross to help fight COVID-19.”

Tim Dutton, Client Executive for Media and Entertainment at IBM UK and Ireland, added: “Safeguarding an organisation’s brand is essential to maintaining consumer trust during this unprecedented time. We are pleased that through Mantis powered by IBM Watson, IBM will help deliver a COVID-19 ad blocking solution for safe news content across the UK.”

Daniel Clayman, VP & Managing Director, Northern Europe at Xandr, said: “Xandr operates in support of trusted newsrooms and premium advertisers around the globe and proactively seeks out sophisticated tools, like Mantis, for our clients to navigate disruptions to their business. Now more than ever, we’re proud to put our platform to work for the news industry.”