At industry events and inside board rooms, digital media executives talk a big game about diversity, equity and inclusion, but the conversation often falls back on the same excuse: The technology, or the media, simply isn’t there to achieve the goals that sound good on record.
Advertisers struggle to buy media owned by and featuring underrepresented groups. Ad-tech companies and agencies struggle to connect them with that media—or worse, they exploit the diverse companies they should be helping to grow. Factors outside of any one company’s control get the blame.
But the lack of multicultural reach in advertising is a people problem, not a tech one. The technology exists to connect advertisers with diverse inventory and publishers at scale. The media exists and would benefit greatly from advertiser dollars. The question is not whether a more diverse, equitable and inclusive digital media industry is possible; it’s whether decision-makers are ready to prioritize the organizations and decisions that can help them achieve their stated goals.
Avoid overly restrictive brand safety automation
One of the major roadblocks to diverse, equitable and inclusive advertising is overly restrictive brand safety automation. Agencies often develop block lists that include any term that might lead advertisers to show up next to controversial media. But this can go horribly wrong, leading to excesses that essentially discriminate against media owned by and featuring underrepresented groups.
Consider an agency that wanted to shield its clients from showing up next to news stories about Black Lives Matter due to political sensitivity. In practice, a block on this term could lead advertisers to avoid virtually all Black-owned media.
So, instead of taking the easy way out and blocking any media that could be controversial, advertisers and agencies need to adopt more granular block lists. To protect brand safety, they can still routinely analyze where their media appears, comparing it to where they want it to appear to manually screen out undesirable properties. This way, brands stay safe without penalizing underrepresented groups.
Work with tech partners with a track record of DEI performance
If media executives have the impression that their inability to reach diverse audiences while meeting business objectives is a technical challenge, it may be because that’s precisely what their technology partners are telling them. But just because one SSP or DSP hasn’t cracked the code on delivering diverse, equitable and inclusive media strategies doesn’t mean the industry as a whole is unequipped to solve the problem.
Just as an agency would assemble a diverse creative team to deliver creative that speaks to consumers of various identities, media buyers need to work with diverse technology partners if they want to craft automation-led media buying strategies that reach and resonate with those audiences. If advertisers or agencies are not meeting their DEI goals, they should seek out technology partners who have a proven track record of helping advertisers do just that.
In other words, solving advertising’s DEI challenges requires integrating DEI into the vendor vetting process. If creating a diverse media buying strategy is an executive- and board-level goal, advertisers and agencies need to prove that when settling on the purchases and partnerships that shape media buying.
Ensure workflows are as inclusive and equitable as possible
One of the reasons DEI issues persist is that influential organizations fail to take the steps required to turn a small win into an industry-shifting victory.
For example, let’s say a large DSP works with a global advertiser to diversify their media spend. Instead of siloing that one client’s media buying, the DSP should conduct the client’s purchases in the open marketplace and bring its new buying methodology to other clients. This is how single organizations’ actions lead to systemic change.
Another workflow optimization opportunity lies in dealmaking. For example, it’s common practice for major agencies to cut big deals with SSPs—the agency or holding company gets a discount on their spend, and the SSP gets a big client. If agencies are extending these deals to the same old technology partners without thinking about working with a diverse group of vendors, how is diversity-conscious technology, let alone diverse entrepreneurs and media professionals, supposed to grow and improve the industry from the inside?
Touting aggressive DEI goals has become de rigueur at company retreats and industry events. But too many media leaders are content to chalk up a lack of progress to technical and practical limitations that supposedly can’t be solved. We need to move beyond that excuse. Diverse technology and media are here. It’s the people who lead our industry who need to take advantage of them.
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