Times change, and with the changing times comes change in what consumers expect from the advertising they see. That’s true of all of the decades in which advertising has existed so far, but never was it more true — or more rapidly evolving — than the summer of 2020.

That’s when the pandemic was really starting to settle in for the long haul. It’s also when societal inequities bubbled up and boiled over onto everyone’s TV, computer and smartphone screens.

While so many other things were changing, change was happening in advertising, too. Advertisers started listening to those who had been demanding diversity, equity and representation in marketing and advertising for years. Here’s what’s been happening since that point and how it can affect digital publishers.

Playwire isn’t just here to kick your revenue into high gear. We’re also here to keep you posted when change is happening in our industry. That way, you stay ahead of the game, do the right thing and keep your revenue climbing. Want to do this thing together? Contact us.

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The Big Wakeup Call

We’ve already touched on the wakeup call. A huge number of factors came together in mid-2020 to form what would turn into a wave of change in digital advertisers’ inventory buying preferences. This isn’t just anecdotal — there are hard numbers to back this up.

For instance, a study from Meta — Facebook at the time — found that, in October of 2020, over 71% of people expected brands to put inclusion and diversity front and center in their online advertising. Meanwhile, the same study found that 54% of consumers didn’t feel represented in online advertising.

The demand is there, and responding to it is the right thing to do. But it turns out that doing the right thing might also have bottom-line benefits. Recent research has found that diversity in advertising appears to promote brand loyalty and purchasing. For example, a study conducted in late 2020 found that 64% of consumers were “somewhat likely” to make a purchase from a brand immediately after seeing an advertisement from that brand that promotes diversity.

Representation in Ad Creative vs. Representation in Digital Audiences

This is probably a good time to distinguish between representation in ad creative and representation in reach. Both are important factors in this equation, but for publishers, the real point on which to focus is representation in reaching digital audiences.

Traditional diversity and equity initiatives might focus on creative — showing people of different races or sexual orientations in an ad campaign, for example. Audience reach as a diversity initiative looks a bit different. It’s about serving ads to a diverse and representative audience, and it’s trickier to pull off because you have to directly target members of that diverse audience in the semi-anonymous digital landscape. It’s not the same thing as putting together some representative creative and sending it off for distribution.

Yes, brands and agencies want both. But what you can offer as a publisher is reach to particular demographics. That’s how you can contribute to this movement — and optimize your ad revenue by leveraging your user data.

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What Brands and Agencies Want Now

Some advertisers and agencies were getting calls, emails and online comments about this. People were quite literally saying, “Your advertising makes me feel excluded, and that’s not acceptable.” 

For many brands, that was enough. For others, it was the economic pressure that pushed them. In either case, buyers of digital ad inventory are now actively trying to figure out how they can execute campaigns that reach broader, more diverse, more representative audiences. And these requests tend to come in three main flavors:

1. Reaching the Census Spread

Some brands are now interested in reaching a digital audience that is as diverse as the U.S. Census says the U.S. is. Based on the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, that might mean an advertiser wants their campaign to reach white people 76.3% of the time, Latinx people 18.5% of the time, Black people 13.4% of the time, Asian people 5.9% of the time, American Indian or Alaska Native people 1.3% of the time and so on.

It’s rarely going to be that specific, but you get the idea. The hard numbers of the census data give advertisers a benchmark to aim for and something to point to.

2. Reaching Particular Demographics

In other cases, brands and agencies are going the more traditional route when trying to increase representation in their advertising efforts. They want campaigns that reach particular underrepresented audiences, and they are often willing to pay more to get a relative guarantee that their creative is going to reach the people they intended it to.

3. Working with Minority-Owned Businesses

This one is perhaps less common than the first two, but it is an increasingly popular approach. Many brands are now interested in advertising with minority-owned businesses. They see this as a push for equity rather than representation — supporting minority-owned businesses specifically can begin to make up for historical inequities like a lack of access to capital.

How Should Publishers Adapt to Changes in Buyer Needs?

We know what’s changed, and we know what buyers want. So how can publishers give them what they want? How should you adapt? Start by looking at your data.

More specifically, ask yourself: Do I have access to users who fit the descriptions of the demographics buyers now want to reach? And if you do, do you have a way to leverage it so that advertisers know about it?

We’re on Top of This for Our Publishers

The change has already happened: Buyers are seeing the writing on the wall — and on the social media posts and review sites and probably even handwritten letters — and they’re looking to change. Publishers have two basic choices: keep doing what you’re doing and risk falling behind, or figure out how to use your user data for good, to keep up with the rise in representation in equity in digital media.

We’re in favor of the second option, and we’re all about helping you make it happen. We’ve recently launched an internal initiative in collaboration with other members of the ad tech industry to make this possible. Want to learn more? Just reach out online.

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