Phil Cowdell
Mar 23, 2023

How did good intentions lead to an ecosystem lacking in DE&I?

And how can we fix it?

How did good intentions lead to an ecosystem lacking in DE&I?

It is very heartening to see that demand from advertisers to support diverse creators and their audiences is positive and growing. But the ability to meet this demand across the digital media landscape is constrained by two forms of access: to capital for many diverse start-ups, and to advertising budgets.

For the former, there has been a welcome increase in investment and funding opportunities. But for the latter, there needs to be more education and evangelism, as well as a systemic reassessment of how the industry defines “brand safe” and advertising eligible media inventory. Unfortunately, today, many block lists over-block and inclusion lists aren't inclusive.

These constraints are the unintended consequences of well-intentioned, collective industry efforts to increase brand safety for advertisers.

Now that we fully recognize this issue, we need to rapidly resolve it. But the “fix” is complex, multifaceted and requires openness to the challenge and commitment to solutions across multiple stakeholders.

But how do we get here?

The three ages of digital

The internet’s expansion and consolidation into giant media platforms led to not only the mass proliferation of online advertising, but also the unwelcome emergence of new threats to brands. These new ad opportunities lacked standards and metrics and were often fraught with non-viewability, fraud and misplacement. This period of chaos demanded measures and controls heralding the shift to a more cautious approach.  

Industry best practice followed, including the ANA, 4As and IAB “3Ms” framework (Making Measurement Make Sense) in 2012, the MRC’s Web Viewability Guidelines in 2014 and a series of standards by the WFA’s Global Alliance for Responsible Media starting in 2019. Heightened controls and exclusions created a safer environment for brands.

At its core were keyword-based brand safety and suitability methodologies based on lists including words that may be associated with content unsuitable for a brand. But in the pursuit of keeping brands safe, we created barriers that prevented many diverse creators from monetizing their content. Put bluntly, these well-intentioned efforts have led to an era of exclusion.

We must reconcile brand safety requirements with efforts to be inclusive and equitable. We must end the era of exclusion and move to one of inclusion.

Conscious inclusion

This journey that started with chaos, responded with caution, now needs to become conscious.

Being conscious is “being aware of both ourselves and what exists around us.” Being conscious means you notice or realize something is happening; you are more likely to consider or appraise; to be concerned or interested. It matters because if we are not conscious, or choose not to act, we are part of the problem; it matters because if we do nothing we condone this era of exclusion.

Being conscious is being compelled to take a stand, to shine a light and to lead the way to more equity. Only by being conscious can we avoid overblocking and create truly inclusive media plans.  

At Channel Factory we are committed to evangelizing this lack of inclusion and equity in digital media; designing new methodologies for brand safety and suitability that are not inherently discriminatory; and partnering with like-minded agencies, marketers and industry organizations to demonstrate that diversity and inclusion is both ethically and commercially the right thing to do.

So many of us recognize the challenge, and many have started to make amends. But together we will move faster and go further.

Let’s be conscious.

Phil Cowdell is strategic advisor at Channel Factory.

Campaign US

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