Why Advertisers Won't Run Ads On Black Lives Matter Content NPR's Scott Simon speaks with Vice Media Group's Marsha Cooke about companies' public support of Black Lives Matter protests, while not allowing products to be advertised next to related content.

Why Advertisers Won't Run Ads On Black Lives Matter Content

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Many corporations have voiced support for Black Lives Matter since the murder of George Floyd. Yet, new research from Vice Media Group suggests some of those corporations are also refusing to advertise products next to Black Lives Matter-related content that's online. Marsha Cooke is a senior vice president with Vice Media Group, and she led the research. Thanks so much for being with us.

MARSHA COOKE: Thank you so very much.

SIMON: What did your team find?

COOKE: We found that content that was related to George Floyd and the protests monetized at a rate 57% lower than other news content. And that's because brands and agencies specifically blocked their ads from being next to content around racial unrest. Words relating to the murder of George Floyd and the protests happening across the country were popping up on these lists that are called within the industry blocklists. These words were George Floyd, Minneapolis, Black Lives Matter, Black people. What we realized is that brands or advertisers would not want their product to be aligned or placed next to the content that is important for the American audience to know about.

SIMON: Can they do that?

COOKE: Sure. It is pervasive, Scott. Blocklists have existed for a very long time, and the words are in the thousands. We took a very strong stand last year and we highlighted many of these words. The words were gay, Muslim, transgender, interracial, fat. The list goes on. I think that the blocklists have words still, to this day, like Columbine or Oklahoma City. They absolutely can do this.

Now, in defense of the industry in some way, it's a practice that has gone on and started with the best of intentions. No brand or corporation wants their product to be, you know, adjacent to a sensitive topic that may - you know, a smiling ad next to a story about grief or ads against white supremacy or ads next to pornography. So the intentions were good at the onset, but now it's certainly (ph) gotten out of hand and it needs to be called out.

SIMON: Any specific companies?

COOKE: Oh, Scott. Scott, I cannot ID the companies.

SIMON: (Laughter) I appreciate your candor.


COOKE: I really - it really is complicated.

SIMON: Well, it might be tied up with contractual stuff, too, and everything, I imagine. Remind us of some of the editorial implications of this for sites that run news.

COOKE: Well, if we don't have the support of the industry - I mean, it's a deal that we know exists. We need advertising to support what it is that we love to do. And I've always looked at, in the 30 years that I have been a journalist, that this is a public service. So if we do not have the support of the brands or advertising industry, we have a very difficult time existing. And our ability to tell these stories becomes that much more difficult at a time when we are experiencing not only a pandemic, but also racial unrest never before seen - or not since the 1960s.

SIMON: Are you concerned that there might be people in some newsrooms who would begin to say, I - no, we don't want another story on that; the advertisers don't like it?

COOKE: Not the people I know. From my perspective and what it is that we do at Vice, we're not changing.

SIMON: May I ask, has Vice lost money because of this? Can you say?


SIMON: Have you had any conversations with advertisers, media partners to say, you know, look; this is our position?

COOKE: I think it's safe to say that we have had conversations daily. We are calling upon marketers to review and question the media agencies that they work with on the words that make up these blocklists. We're also asking that agencies reassess the antiquated practice of these keywords and, you know, look for more contextual-based solutions that are out there that better support journalism. You can do that while still servicing your clients' needs and still be brand-safe. It can be done. You just have to recognize it and stop it.

SIMON: Marsha Cooke is senior vice president at Vice Media Group. Thank you so much for being with us.

COOKE: Thank you.


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