Reach and tech firms try to tackle ad blocklist of COVID19 stories


Daily Mirror owner Reach has joined forces with IBM and Xandr to tackle a blocklist issue, where advertisers prevent ads from appearing alongside coronavirus stories.

Reach said the move is a breakthrough for the news industry; it comes as publishers struggle to monetise their content despite huge demand from readers for high quality, trusted journalism.

Reach’s Mantis, launched late last year, is a semantic solution powered by IBM Watson’s Natural Language Processing.

Mantis verifies whether news content is safe for brands and therefore whether a blocklist should be added or not. This is now being used to help prevent mistaken blocklisting of COVID19 stories at a time when they are dominating news coverage.

Blocklist of COVID19 stories

It is available through Xandr’s advertising technology platform. This technology means advertising can be directed to appear only alongside news stories, including those related to the Coronavirus, that have been categorised as neutral and positive.

These include informative stories about homeschooling, cooking tips, how to stay fit at home or celebrating frontline workers such as those in the NHS.

Blocklisted: Not all COVID19 stories are negative.

The inventory is available across a collective of premium UK publishers, enabling brands to achieve national scale.

Following testing, the Mantis tool is estimated to free up at least 70% of content – from national to regional brands – that is currently blocked by keyword targeting that prevent advertising from appearing alongside terms like “Coronavirus” and “Covid-19”.

“There’s no reason why a brand shouldn’t want to have an advert placed next to a positive story; like one about sports and media personality Gary Lineker donating two months wages to the Red Cross to help fight Covid-19,” Benjamin Pheloung, General Manager for Mantis said.

Safeguarding brands

Tim Dutton, Client Executive for Media and Entertainment, IBM UK and Ireland, said: “Safeguarding an organisation’s brand is essential to maintaining consumer trust during this unprecedented time.

“We are pleased that through Mantis powered by IBM Watson, IBM will help deliver a Covid-19 ad blocking solution for safe news content across the UK.”

Daniel Clayman, VP & Managing Director, Northern Europe at Xandr said: “Xandr operates in support of trusted newsrooms and premium advertisers around the globe and proactively seeks out sophisticated tools, like Mantis, for our clients to navigate disruptions to their business.

“Now more than ever, we’re proud to put our platform to work for the news industry.”

In a letter published last week the news industry asked advertisers to remove blocklists from trusted UK news brands to ensure they can continue to fund quality British journalism at a time of national crisis.

If the pandemic lasts for another three months and no action is taken, the UK news industry estimates that the total loss to the sector is expected to be in the region of £50 million.