There are good reasons for brands to spend their ad dollars with trusted news outlets, writes Jamie Credland, CEO of World Media Group, an alliance of leading global media organisations.

This year will see more than half the world’s population heading to the polls, with at least 70 countries holding national elections including the US, the UK, India and Russia. The results of these elections will shape the socioeconomic landscape for millions of people and will have huge implications for businesses and marketers.

Yet in a world of tampered imagery, AI-generated headlines, fake social media accounts and industrial-scale fake news, it’s harder than ever for voters to make a fair assessment of the candidates, and to understand the implications of their vote.

The need for quality journalism to cut through the misinformation and disinformation, and provide audiences with the facts to make an informed decision, has never been more acute.

News integrity critical to society

The advertising industry knows the importance of news. In fact, recent industry research conducted by Prohaska Consulting and Advertiser Perceptions showed that 75% of those polled agree that democratic societies are currently at risk from disinformation and propaganda drowning out legitimate news sources. Not only was there consensus that news integrity is a critical priority for society, there was also agreement that the advertising industry has a responsibility to support legitimate news sources.

And yet increased use of keyword blocklists is penalising the organisations that create a space for the reporting of facts and transparent analysis. Brands and media agencies are shying away from anything potentially controversial. It’s not just about the elections – it happens with everything from war coverage to articles about race and sexuality.

A missed opportunity

By dissociating themselves from challenging news, brands miss out on a huge opportunity. During the pandemic, all the World Media Group members saw an increase in audience numbers as people turned towards trusted sources to make sense of what was happening. The same is true of an election year: millions of people turn to trusted news brands to help them make their decisions. This creates a large, highly engaged audience, and a prime opportunity for advertisers.

Research shows that advertising within trusted and well-respected media can have a halo effect on your brand, even if it’s placed within political or controversial content. An IAB study from 2020 found that for 84% of consumers, trust remains neutral or increases towards advertisers in a news environment. And crucially, this trust results in increased brand engagement.

The same holds true in the UK. IPA Databank research carried out by Peter Field suggests that campaigns using news brands between 2018-2022 increased overall effectiveness by 52% compared to campaigns that did not.

How safe is too safe?

The problem is that most standard ad-tech uses a default brand safety setting, which tends to err on the side of caution. It’s not surprising – nobody wants to receive ‘that screenshot’ from a client whose ad is next to something wholly inappropriate.

But doing this has several negative effects. By blocking articles with sensitive keywords, brands miss an opportunity to support the issues that matter. In the US, for example, coverage of BLM and women’s rights protests have been impacted by brand safety blocks. Unfortunately, this creates a financial incentive for publishers not to cover these topics. The result is that brands may inadvertently block coverage of the very issues they support.

To tackle this, advertisers need to implement a bespoke approach to brand safety, with custom keyword-blocking lists. Ensure your agency is reporting regularly on how brand safety is being improved, without simply cutting out sites.

Another easy fix is to avoid Made For Advertising (MFA) sites that are prone to fake news, low quality content, and heavy ad loads. This may seem obvious, but analysis from the ANA suggests that marketers are currently investing $13bn a year on these sites, money which could be supporting trusted journalism. That’s not to say that there won’t be controversial articles, but you’ll have the peace of mind that issues will be covered fairly and accurately, minimising the risk for your brand.

Holding authority figures to account

There’s also a broader reason to spend your advertising dollars with trusted news organisations in an election year. High-quality journalism is at a premium because millions of people are having to make an important decision, and they need to make that decision based on trusted information.

Your advertising budgets help to make that happen. News is essential to the well-functioning of society and the post-truth era has been a warning for us not to take press freedom for granted. By supporting quality journalism, you not only benefit from reaching highly engaged audiences, you also contribute to keeping trusted news organisations in business, holding governments and authority figures to account.