Marketers, it’s time to walk the walk on responsible media

Dive into the nuances of responsible media buying that balances brand safety and support for credible journalism, DEIB and sustainability.

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As the advertising industry grapples with the growing importance of brand safety, sustainability and supporting diverse and inclusive content, marketers face the challenge of translating these ideals into actionable strategies. While many have been vocal about these issues, implementing responsible media practices is proving more complex than anticipated. 

What is responsible media?

Responsible media involves practices that:

  • Prioritize brand safety and suitability.
  • Support quality journalism.
  • Promote diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB).
  • Advance sustainability. 

It ensures that advertising is placed in safe and appropriate contexts, upholds ethical standards and fosters a positive impact on society and the environment.

Navigating the complex landscape of made-for-advertising sites

A key issue is the concern over made-for-advertising (MFA) sites, which prioritize ad revenue over content quality. The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) has provided a list of MFA characteristics to identify such sites, including:

  • A high ad-to-content ratio.
  • Frequent ad refreshing.
  • Substantial paid traffic.
  • Poor, templated designs. 

Yet, these traits could also unfairly categorize legitimate, non-MFA sites, highlighting industry challenges in establishing a set of criteria. 

This concern was notably discussed at a recent Beeler.Tech event, Navigator: NYC, where more than 30 publishers voiced their fears about the potential mislabeling of legitimate sites as MFA and critiqued the double standards in treatment between advertisers and publishers. For instance, while advertisers pay to drive site traffic, publishers face criticism for similar practices.

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A report from Adalytics, which claimed that Forbes was serving ads on a subdomain allegedly considered to be made for advertising (MFA), has highlighted the complexities involved in identifying MFAs. Forbes claimed it was due to a coding glitch and asserted that the subdomain received minimal traffic. 

Publishers, especially well-known, reputable ones, face many challenges when they are unfairly labeled for engaging in MFA practices. This situation emphasizes the need for advertisers and publishers to establish clear, fair, more nuanced and collaborative standards for determining what constitutes an MFA.

Recognizing these complexities, marketers must adopt a more nuanced approach to media buying that goes beyond a strict checklist of criteria. It’s important to consider quality content, ad placement and audience and understand that not all sites flagged by MFA criteria are inherently problematic. 

For example, while listicles may not always adhere to traditional quality metrics, they can still effectively engage audiences. As such, evaluate websites through the lens of user engagement and the value they offer, which better reflect a site’s true impact and alignment with your brand’s objectives rather than adhering rigidly to predefined attributes.

Reassessing brand safety measures in news media buying

Another point of contention is the avoidance of news websites by media buyers and programmatic specialists due to brand safety concerns. Publishers argue that this strategy not only overlooks the value of quality journalism but also contributes to the financial struggles of the news and publishing industry. 

This widespread avoidance undermines their essential role in society and deprives publishers of crucial ad revenues needed to thrive in today’s digital economy. Due to the algorithmic nature of programmatic buying, it often fails to discern context accurately, resulting in missed advertising opportunities in credible news environments. 

To address this, a more sophisticated approach is needed — one that differentiates genuinely risky content from reputable journalism. Advertisers should implement finer controls and context-aware technologies to support and leverage the benefits of high-quality journalistic content without sacrificing brand safety. By refining these strategies, advertisers can bolster the news industry and foster a healthy information ecosystem.

Dig deeper: Balancing risk and reach: The brand safety dilemma

Enhancing media strategies with diversity and inclusion initiatives

Additionally, marketers should place a high priority on DEIB in their media planning strategies and actively support minority-owned properties. While these platforms might not always conform to mainstream standards — which often overlook the unique perspectives and voices offered by minority-owned media outlets — they play an important role in reaching and resonating with diverse and often underrepresented audiences. 

By prioritizing support for minority-owned properties, marketers not only broaden the scope of marketing campaigns but also enhance brand perception by demonstrating a commitment to social responsibility and inclusivity and contributing to a richer and more inclusive media landscape.

Advancing sustainability in media buying practices

Sustainability is a critical aspect that marketers need to address as the industry increasingly supports publishers and tech platforms adopting greener practices to reduce environmental impact. Transitioning requires substantial investment and time, presenting challenges for many organizations. 

Marketers must actively support companies earnestly making these changes by offering encouragement and possibly preferential partnership terms, playing a key role in fostering a sustainable industry landscape.

Although making sustainability a mandatory criterion for all media buying decisions is not a reality, reinforcing progress can promote broader adoption and innovation. This approach allows a gradual transition, giving companies time to adapt without immediate penalties.

Highlighting successful sustainability initiatives can inspire other companies to start or accelerate their efforts, aiding practical sustainability measures and boosting the public image of the brands involved, underscoring their commitment to corporate social responsibility and environmental stewardship.

Dig deeper: Adtech’s approaches to greener marketing

Rethinking media buying to emphasize substance over style

Marketers must reassess their media buying strategies, looking beyond superficial aesthetics. While a site’s design may not align with a brand’s visual identity, it can still provide valuable and engaging content. Often, successful sites challenge traditional categories and design norms, indicating that a comprehensive view of the media landscape is crucial. Marketers should prioritize a site’s engagement and value to its audience over its appearance to make informed and effective decisions.

Marketers must fully embrace the principles of responsible media. By collaborating closely with publishers, investing in quality journalism, focusing on performance, sustainability, ad experience, DEIB and looking beyond surface appearances to evaluate sites’ true value, marketers can advertise on sites that align with their requirements and cater to audience needs, supporting a diverse and robust media ecosystem.

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Contributing authors are invited to create content for MarTech and are chosen for their expertise and contribution to the martech community. Our contributors work under the oversight of the editorial staff and contributions are checked for quality and relevance to our readers. The opinions they express are their own.

About the author

Angelina Eng
Having started her career in advertising in 1994, Angelina Eng rose to executive leadership roles, significantly influencing the progression of digital media, marketing, ad operations, and analytics. In her pivotal roles at renowned firms such as Morgan Stanley, Merkle, Dentsu, and Publicis, Angelina provided invaluable assistance to over 150 marketers across diverse advertising facets and played a key role in forming some of the industry standards recognized today. 

Currently holding the position of Vice President of the Measurement, Addressability & Data Center at the IAB, Angelina plays a crucial role in defining guidelines and establishing industry standards in the fields of addressability, measurement, and operations. In doing so, she is actively shaping the contemporary landscape of digital advertising.

Before her tenure at IAB, Angelina received notable awards including the AdMonsters 2018 Power List, IAB Data Rockstar 2016, and AdMonsters Digital Media Leadership Award 2016, underlining her significant impact and leadership in the field.

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