Take “racism” off your keyword blocklist

You can start funding critical conversations about racial injustice with your ad dollars, starting today.

Welcome back to BRANDED, the newsletter exploring how marketers broke society (and how we can fix it).

Here’s what new with us this week:

We are not in a “feel good” moment

Hey, Claire here.

We had a different newsletter planned for today. But as we watched protestors risk their lives on the streets to protest police brutality and white supremacy, we felt we needed to have a different conversation.

I’m writing today’s newsletter, because as a white woman and as a marketer, I recognize the instinct you may have to look for a feel-good moment in the middle of one of the most painful events in recent history. I’m here to remind you that an example of that instinct - the Kendall Jenner Live for Now Pepsi ad - was pulled immediately after it launched. And I want to remind you that the Black Lives Matter protests are not an invitation for you to build brand loyalty and connect with your audience.

This moment is not about your brand. It is about how systemic racism disproportionately harms and kills Black people while you and me are able to live our lives without ever grappling with its pain. It is how we, white people, bring our unchecked attitudes and assumptions to work and process the pain of injustice in inappropriate ways that we don't fully grasp because it feels so alien to our own lived experiences.

It’s about the fact that brands are doing two things right now, and neither one of them is an adequate response to this profound and deeply painful moment:

  1. Putting out tone-deaf BLM statements on social media
  2. Figuring out how to stay the hell away from it

It’s about the fact that I can assume - and I will - that most of our BRANDED subscribers are white. (ANA research shows that Black people only account for 4 percent of the "senior level" roles in marketing).

Today, we’re going to talk about how our advertising best practices need to start changing. A note though, before I begin: the problems of systemic racism are not going to be solved by individual marketers making different choices within the advertising industry. Systemic racism needs to be solved with systemic solutions. So, take these suggestions as guidelines for where to begin.

Unblock critical conversations about racial injustice

We’ve talked before about how brand safety technology companies advise marketers to keep their brands away from “negative sentiment” and “controversial” content. Integral Ad Science CEO Lisa Utzschneider even advised brands in April to use IAS technology to appear only near “hero-related pandemic content.” I wonder what her advice would be now? To advertise only on “hero-related riot content?”

This is a perfect example of white privilege in action. We are literally using our advertising stack to exclude and punish important news coverage because… it feels uncomfortable for us?

Think about what it means when Fidelity Investments has both “immigration” and “racism” on its keyword blocklist (WSJ). It means Fidelity does not fund any essential reporting around the most important issues facing our communities and our society today. What a way to support your diverse workforce.

Imagine running a Black media outlet - or any media outlet - that is financially penalized for producing stories about racism because thousands of brands just like Fidelity have simply blocked it out.

When you block “negative sentiment” news content, you block investigative journalism and breaking news coverage. You make it difficult for reporters and newsrooms to invest in critical news coverage and stories that we as a society need in order to confront racism. And you make it damn near impossible for outlets that represent Black voices to even exist.

Put your ad dollars behind Black voices

Supporting Black lives means we need to seek out and support Black media, publishers and creators who are speaking out, sharing their experiences, and driving change. We should be thinking about how to reach and support Black trans voices, Black gay and lesbian voices, Black and disabled voices, and Black Muslim voices.

We spoke to BrandAdvance, an ad network that connects advertisers to multicultural segments. Their founder, Christopher Kenna, says:

“Why would you say you stand ‘shoulder to shoulder’’ with Black Lives Matter if you don’t even want to show your brand next to the stories and content that matter to the movement?”

If you’re struggling to find where and how to spend your ad dollars effectively, connect with people like Christopher to help you.

Make anti-racist media buys

Do you support Black Lives Matter? Then you have to start thinking about who you’re spending your budget with and what those people plan to do with your financial support. Advertising on media that actively promotes white supremacy and hate speech is inexcusable.

I say that knowing what an uphill climb it is, even if you’re a white person, to try to bring up issues of race and power within our workplaces.

Just this week, we received an email from a BRANDED reader (a white man) asking for help:

In our Management meeting at [company] today I brought up not running any ads on Fox News to show our colleagues that we mean it when we say we are an ally. I was met with blank stares and was told we couldn't do that because that is some of our clients demographic. I don't know how you do it because it feels like I'm always banging my head against a brick wall. Any advice on what to say or write to really get the point across?

Fox News has become a toxic media buy after over 70 advertisers have fled Tucker Carlson, Bill O’Reilly, and Laura Ingraham’s shows over the past few years.

If you want to support Black communities, is investing your ad dollars in a network that employs a crew of racists who tell Lebron James to “shut up and dribble” your best bet? Answer the following for yourself and for your brand:

  1. Is that kind of rhetoric aligned with your brand values?
  2. Could you defend your media decisions on social media if someone saw it?

Ultimately, it’s a choice you have to make. But keep in mind, it’s one that we can all see.

Replace the term “blacklist” with the term “block list”

We’ve been guilty of this from the start. In our desire to communicate clearly, we used industry terms that reflected the idea that black = bad and white = good. But we realize that using the words “blacklist” and “whitelist” does have its roots in racism. Going forward, we will use “block list” and “allow list.” The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre recently made this change too.

Emma W., Head of Advice and Guidance at the NCSC explained:

"It's fairly common to say whitelisting and blacklisting to describe desirable and undesirable things in cyber security. However, there's an issue with the terminology. It only makes sense if you equate white with 'good, permitted, safe' and black with 'bad, dangerous, forbidden'. There are some obvious problems with this.

Never thought of these terms as racist? Until it was pointed out to us, we didn’t either. We can mean well and also be blind to the ways we are being hurtful. We can also modify our actions moving forward, as part of our constant process of learning.

Awareness is just the first step

When you start to understand how marketing perpetuates systemic racism, you start to see the system of marketing as unto itself problematic and harmful. For some people, the actions listed in this newsletter won’t be nearly enough.

If you would like to learn more about white supremacy and racism, and how to be anti-racist, join the club! I am in a constant state of learning and re-learning, and I welcome you to reach out for more discussion. Conversely, if you think I’ve missed the mark, please let me know! It’s a weird saying, but I believe that “only friends tell you when you have something in your teeth.”

Next time on BRANDED

Ok, NEXT newsletter, we’ll show you what happened when we went through the site list of a successful direct-to-consumer company. We found their ads on hate sites, disinformation, and parts of the world where they don’t even ship.

Lots to come. Thanks for reading!


Did you like this issue? Then why not share! Please send tips, compliments and complaints to @nandoodles and @catthekin.

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