Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

It’s time to value inclusion over exclusion in marketing

By Lauren Douglass, SVP, Global Marketing, Channel Factory

The last time you ordered a pizza, did you list the ingredients you don’t like and ask for any pizza that doesn’t feature those toppings? Creating a dating profile, would you declare the things you weren’t looking for in a partner? WLTM someone with no moustache, who doesn’t ride a motorcycle and isn’t a florist?

When brands advertise online, they often navigate by negatives. Exclusion lists – aka blocklists  or blacklists – select the words an advertiser doesn’t want to be seen against, and have become a default brand-safety tool in digital. And until recently, the idea of piling undesirable terms into a blacklist and placing ads only where the warning light didn’t flash seemed like an un-nuanced but essentially workable one.

But in the post-Covid world, if we steer by exclusion lists alone, online advertising becomes scarcely possible at all. As marketers, our aim is to build audiences, not whittle them down; to include, not exclude. That is why the digital advertising business needs to turn the problem around and focus on inclusion lists: the proactive whitelist of approved publishers, sites, pages and apps against which a brand would like to be seen. 

An inclusion list has many virtues apart from distinguishing inspiring lockdown stories from harrowing ones. It can take account of the credibility of a publisher and the power of the content on a platform, as well as the nature, ownership and over-arching politics of a particular site. It might prioritise independent or local content, or contexts that closely match the values of a brand. And it can also carefully opt in positive but non-mainstream content that blocklists might find an excuse to discard – such as material aimed at different cultures or sexualities.

Channel Factory led a panel recently on the idea of inclusion over exclusion at the 614 Brand Safety Summit in London. Speaking on the topic of inclusion, Mattias Spetz, our MD of Europe said: “What we are trying to do is talk to the brands and the clients and say: which channels, which publishers, which content owners, which influencers, which creators do you think have the same standards as you? And we also look at the performance of them. Because then you can say: I want to be on the news, [even] with Covid, as long as it’s a publisher or an influencer that actually stands for my beliefs.”

Also speaking at Brand Safety Summit London was Chris Kenna, CEO and founder of Brand Advance, which specialises in delivering diverse audiences to brands. Kenna echoed the danger of limiting campaigns by exclusion, and noted that content aimed at minority groups is disproportionately likely to fall foul of blacklists.

“Our job as marketers is to reach as many consumers as possible and convert them,” said Kenna. “To put our own blocks in that process – just writing a list of words and saying ‘I don’t want to go next to them,’ and handing that to your agency, while still saying ‘give me scale’ – it’s just laziness.”

Blocking keywords like rap, LGBT, or pregnant (all words I have seen on recent blacklists, in 2020) means you are not connecting with a subset of the population – people that deserve to be seen and communicated with in media, just as anyone else would. But of course there is nuance in everything, and using inclusion lists depends on sophisticated technology.

“You need to have technology that can follow what that influencer has been talking about, how they have positioned themselves, to make sure that’s a trusted content owner that you can be around,” says Spetz.

“And if you have a good inclusion list, then actually you can remove a lot of your exclusions. And the more you remove your exclusions, the more you can build scale. Then you reach more audiences and they can buy more of your products.”Of the leading content platforms, YouTube is one of the few that allows advertisers to easily choose the contexts they do want, and works with providers like Channel Factory to enable clients to advertise in a brand suitable way.  It’s a smart move for advertisers to select what context they want. Not only does it perform better to target vs avoid, but it is the right thing to do as a media industry. Excluding sub-segments of the population based on the content they consume should be seen as an unsophisticated targeting solution. Let’s include, and perform better as a result.