Advertisers who are avoiding environments where news related to the COVID-19 outbreak appears should actually be doing the exact opposite, according to newly released eye-tracking research.

A study by Lumen has found that people interested in the latest news about the virus are also soaking up the ads around the news, and this applies both in print and online, Marketing Week reports.

The finding is contrary to a common assumption that brands should distance themselves from news perceived to be negative, and virus coverage certainly falls into that category. Some ad placement software tools have been set to avoid content containing key words related to COVID-19.

Newsworks, which represents UK newspaper publishers, estimates that avoidance of content linked to coronavirus will cost the industry £50m in lost advertising revenue in the next three months. US publishers have reported similar shifts in buying habits.

But Lumen managing director Mike Follett says advertisers are missing a huge opportunity by avoiding COVID-19; the eye-tracking study showed clearly that readers paid more attention to the ads appearing closest to virus coverage than they did to ads near other stories.

“People are engaging more with coronavirus-related content than anything else and therefore they are engaging more with the ads around that,” he told Marketing Week.

“It’s not that you should be doing ads and avoiding coronavirus, it’s the other way round.

“There is this general belief that you don’t want to have your ads next to any form of controversial content. Brands become tremendously worried about the juxtaposition of those, and this is just another thing they want to block. The blacklists in this sense should be reversed. What [brands] should be doing is not blocking that stuff but searching it out.”

The Lumen study also found that ads around news generally are winning much more attention than usual. In print, 88% of press ads in late March were viewed (up from a 75% average), and online 66% of viewable digital ads were noticed by readers; the average was previously 55%.

“People are still engaging with advertising and even more than ever, so you’re going to get more bang for your buck from pretty much any form of advertising at the moment,” Follett said.

Sourced from Marketing Week