Keyword Blocking – Unintended Consequences

by Nick

Keyword Blocking for 600

On this episode we had the pleasure of welcoming Christopher Kenna, the CEO of UK-based Brand Advance to talk about topics surrounding diversity spending, keyword blocking, and AI usage in advertising. Christopher expands upon his motivations for starting Brand Advance after leaving the military service after several tours of duty. The two also discuss strategy during the current global pandemic and how they are developing their network to not only come out better on the other side but paving the way for a new normal in the advertising world. The show ends with Christopher giving his predictions for the future of not only his company, but how the digital sphere will develop in response to the current state of world affairs.

What to do with all of this information?

Christopher and DJ go into detail discussing the ins & outs of Keyword Blocking and how this practice sparked Christopher’s motivation to start Brand Advance. Chris explains that the devastating nature of keyword blocking in advertising hit very close to home as he and his family were described in these keyword block lists. According to brands, words that could describe his physical appearance and that of his family, were in the top 5 of the most block keywords. This motivated Chris to not only build a company that was set on dismantling this practice but he also made a concerted effort to educate brands and consumers alike about the blatant bigotry that has been used as recently as 2018. 

Much to Chris’s surprise, when he was giving a speech about this subject he was met with astonishment from top level marketers from the very same companies that were employing the practice. In this episode of the podcast Chris explains how Brand Advance has strategically built systems, employed new technologies, to make informed decisions for brands that circumvents keyword blocking.

What is Keyword Blocking?

Very simply, brands want their ads to appear next to good (trustworthy & accurate) news & online content – and they don’t want to be anywhere near any of the bad bits of the internet. Makes sense right? The other part of the story is that brands work with ad agencies & other 3rd parties to place their ads across the digital sphere. So a problem arises. How does an ad agency ensure that a brand’s ad doesn’t get placed where it shouldn’t? The solution used to be a keyword block list, sometimes known as a blacklist. The brand’s marketing team would provide the agency with a list of terms to avoid having their image or ad appear next to something that may hurt the brand image. Typically these words were items like ‘kill’, ‘murder’, ‘explosion’, the stuff that usually is associated with ‘not safe for work’ content on the internet. But what about a word like dynamite? This could be in reference to a tool used for construction, a way to describe a disco band, a compliment given during a sporting event, or, something worse.

When Christopher first learned about this practice the top rated blocked keyword was ‘Gay’ and the other top 5 blocked words directly excluded much of the LGBTQI+ population from advertising placements. Then comes along Vice Media. They blew the lid off the anti-LGBTQ keyword blocking by exposing the practice in association with Interactive Advertising Bureau’s NewFronts West. Full story here.
While many brands are taking a stand to fight this industry-imposed bigotry there is still much progress to be made.

Show updates

If you’re new to the show and would like to hear more about the state of LGBTQ Publishing, check out our Episode with Michael Aaron of QSaltLake

Returning listeners may notice a slightly different show format with this episode. This our first international show as Christopher is based in the UK and recorded his portion of the conversation remotely from his home. 

 We will be having many more remote guests as the world continues to battle through the COVID pandemic. Thankfully we’ve found methods to keep the show moving forward. As always, we’d love to hear from you & we appreciate all of the support along the way. Stay curious and remember to double check your sources & wear sunscreen. 

More about Christopher Kenna:

Brand Advance – Twitter

Christopher Kenna – Instagram

Christopher Kenna – Linkedin

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