Amobee and Universal McCann are spurring an initiative to buy digital ad space to fill units with public service announcements around coronavirus.
The companies have come together to serve public service announcements as publishers are being hit by rampant keyword blocking around the virus and other terms associated with it.
“The group of us are coming together to make PSAs available, and we’re are also working out the best ways to … par back some of the [brand safety] controls while still protecting advertisers, particularly in a highly unusual situation,” Joshua Lowcock, chief digital and global brand safety officer at UM told Adweek. “But the absolute goal right now is to ensure that we’re investing in news and supporting news organizations, because we have a responsibility to do that.”
Other companies involved include IAS, DoubleVerify, Outfront Media and SpotX. Conversations are being held with several other publishers to include more media owners in the initiative, according to a UM spokesperson.
The initiative kicked off Friday and quickly picked up steam, said Amobee CSO Philip Smolin, who added that the companies involved are allocating budget to buy ad space for the purpose of serving PSAs.
Amobee and UM are creating the ads in-house. PSAs for the Centers for Disease and Control have already been placed, with PSAs for the World Health Organization soon to follow.
The ads will be served programmatically with low frequency caps to increase reach, said Smolin. Since placing these PSAs operates like a normal ad buy, publishers will earn revenue from this initiative.
“We did not want to make it a dependency to have publishers donating free inventory in order to get started,” said Smolin.
Both Lowcock and Smolin said they’ve yet to directly involve the CDC or WHO in this process.
“We probably will [reach out] to see if we can be of more specific assistance,” said Smolin. “We assumed that CDC would not have a complaint about our helping them to get the message out. If they do, I’m happy to talk to them.”
According to IAS, coronavirus was the second-most blocked term in February in the U.S. Lowcock said the uptick in traditionally non-brand safe words, like “death” or “quarantine,” that generally accompany articles about coronavirus have exacerbated the monetization issues publishers are currently facing.
When an advertiser wins a bid against content with blocked terms, another advertiser can swoop in at a lower CPM, or no ad gets placed and the publisher doesn’t earn any revenue.
Lowcock said UM isn’t blocking against coronavirus, so publishers shouldn’t face lower CPMs or unfilled inventory when the media agency is executing a buy.
“If you’ve got excess inventory, let’s use it for good,” said Lowcock.
Lowcock said the goal is to direct readers to legitimate resources, and the long-term plan is to make the inventory available to local government and regulatory authorities that may want to share specific messages with a local audience.
Amobee is also waiving the fee on its contextual targeting tool when advertisers use it to either block or directly target coronavirus-related content.
Smolin said the initiative is open to any company, including Amobee’s competitors.
“This is not a competitive question,” said Smolin. “This is a big societal issue, so everyone should be leaning in to help out.”