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AdTech Reboot

You Can’t Block Black

David Berkowitz

David Berkowitz

Author at The Trust Web Times
David Berkowitz

David Berkowitz

Author at The Trust Web Times

“Keyword Blocking Hits ‘Black Lives Matter’ Content.”

That’s the Ad Age headline from last week that I can’t stop thinking about.

The article is about advertisers preventing their ads from running on stories about Black Lives Matter.

If you’re not an Ad Age subscriber and want the gist, you can catch Ad Age’s summary or the coverage in Search Engine Land.

My take: just because advertisers can do something doesn’t mean they should.

That is obvious enough. But I want to start with the “should” and then explore the “could.”

“Should” here applies to various levels

Should you or should you not have ads run around stories about what will likely be recognized as one of the most important movements in American history? 

Black Lives Matter’s support shifted from negative to positive the past two years, and then in two weeks, opinion changed overwhelmingly in its favor. Why should advertisers be so timid?

Should you make it harder for publishers to stay afloat when covering such meaningful stories? If advertisers blocked Black Lives Matter stories en masse, it would disincentivize the press to cover the movement.

Should you avoid appearing where audiences are? That’s fraught with danger. Isn’t the point of advertising to run ads where people are paying attention?

I didn’t want to talk about what you should do though.

Could you?

Can you block ads from running next to Black Lives Matter content?

I have two words for you:

Good luck.

Black Lives Matter isn’t just about protests.

It isn’t about police brutality.

It isn’t about social justice – if you can forgive a white guy for saying so.

What this one very white guy sees Black Lives Matter about is three things:



The pursuit of happiness.

Social justice is part of it. Police reform matters. So does access to quality healthcare. So does improving education – not just for blacks and people of color, but for whites too. When there are calls to shift military spending to education spending, it’s not about black education – it’s about education.

New York City has a $90 billion annual budget, give or take a few groschen. At least, that was the budget last year. The budget that’s due by the end of June for the year ahead is a Black Lives Matter budget, just like it’s a COVID budget.

It doesn’t matter if you’re black, and it doesn’t matter if you have COVID. What matters is that prioritizing the well-being of the greatest number of people at the expense and inconvenience of some others is the story of our era.

What won’t be affected in this budget thanks to Black Lives Matter?

Which fire station gets the next truck? Black Lives Matter.

Which after-school programs survive the cuts? Black Lives Matter.

Which streets get plowed first in a snowstorm? Black Lives Matter.

Which park benches get a new coat of paint? Black Lives Matter.

Which taxes get raised? Which fares rise? Which permit fees go up? Which red tape is dropped?

You know the answer.

This is happening everywhere. Every state. Every city. It has ramifications far beyond the US.

This is not about whether you turn your content black for a day. It’s not about how many black people are in your ads. It’s not even about how many black people are on your board (though that matters).

This is about the intersection of citizenship and corporate citizenship. This is about the social compact.

So yeah, go ahead, block a few keywords. Stick it to – your ad network?

If you’re advertising, you’re running ads around Black Lives Matter.