Like many other Black-owned institutions in America, Black-owned media companies have been historically underfunded and less supported than their white counterparts.
Despite the many promises made after the historic Black Lives Matter protests that swept the country in 2020 after George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer, Black-owned media companies continue to be victims of structural racism and digital redlining – particularly when it comes to securing advertising dollars from major brands.
For those that publish content highlighting racism and inequality, the problem is exacerbated. Advertisers tout “brand safety” as a reason they don’t want their ads to run on certain Black-owned sites.
For any Black-owned media company committed to amplifying the voice of Black America, having the word “racism” on a keyword blocklist is detrimental to their bottom line. This doesn’t stop many brands from doing so anyway.
It’s a phenomenon The Moguldom Nation founder Jamarlin Martin has intimate experience with. As one of the early pioneers in Black digital media, he’s seen firsthand the disparity in the type of content in which advertisers are willing to invest.
“My intimate experience over 16 years in Black digital media has demonstrated America’s advertising complex is structured more like police departments and America’s crooked justice system than advertisers will acknowledge,” Martin said. “Advertisers and agencies have their own expression of digital redlining, mass incarceration, sentencing disparities and stop and frisk.”
“Producing content about racism that can’t be monetized is removing tremendous advertising liquidity from blocklists, blacklists, and whitelisting approaches within the industry,” Martin continued. “Fox News is able to get the same ad buyer that doesn’t want to be close to Black content about racism.”
Martin is not alone in his sentiments.
In a June 2020 article published on Check My Ads, a writer named Claire – who identifies herself only by her first name and as a white woman working in marketing – encouraged brands to remove racism (the word and action) from their keyword blocklists.
“This is a perfect example of white privilege in action. We are literally using our advertising stack to exclude and punish important news coverage because… it feels uncomfortable for us?” Claire wrote, noting financial services company Fidelity Investments was one brand that had the word racism on its blocklist.
“Imagine running a Black media outlet – or any media outlet – that is financially penalized for producing stories about racism because thousands of brands just like Fidelity have simply blocked it out,” Claire continued.
“When you block ‘negative sentiment’ news content, you block investigative journalism and breaking news coverage,” Claire added. “You make it difficult for reporters and newsrooms to invest in critical news coverage and stories that we as a society need in order to confront racism. And you make it damn near impossible for outlets that represent Black voices to even exist.”
Fidelity Investments is not an anomaly. In Claire’s article, Martin said, there are no lies told. According to Martin – who was crowned the “Emperor of Digital Media” by OZY Media and named to the Ebony 100 list of most influential African Americans – content can be perceived as more offensive or brand risky than similar content that is not attached to any Black person or Black media.
“America’s relationship with Black Media is malstructured as our content and perspective is thought to be more risky and unsafe for advertisers because it’s attached to being Black,” Martin explained. “It’s logical for the advertising industry to follow the patterns of the crooked lens of the police profiler, financial redliner or disparate hospital care.”
“These structural racism biases in America don’t just stop at the door of online advertising. America is malstructured as it relates to Black Americans in general, and this can be seen heavily in the political content that Black Americans are most interested in,” Martin continued.
“Content on the right side of history won’t be funded like other categories of content due to its association with Black people dealing with racism,” Martin said. “Major advertisers and agencies can become a form of digital police who regulate Black media in an arbitrary way – associating content related to serious issues affecting Black people, and Black-owned media’s coverage of it, as more risky, more brand unsafe and more likely to be thrown on a blocklist.”
The issue is not limited to Black-owned media, but also extends to Black content creators across the industry. Last year YouTube, which has helped some earn millions for their visual content, was sued by Black creators who alleged the platform limited the amount they could earn in advertising dollars.
Martin and Claire aren’t the only ones calling out the advertising industry’s status quo and encouraging brands to reform their practices and edit their keyword blocklists to exclude racism and other words they’ve historically deemed controversial.
Vice Media Group also criticized the advertising industry for its censorship of Black content. According to a 2020 press release from Vice, one large entertainment corporation even had “Black people” on its keyword blocklist. Marsha Cooke, Vice’s senior vice president of impact, called the problem “the brand-safety paradox.”
Cooke said the same company also had “Black Lives Matter” on its blocklist and the list she was referencing “was sent the very same week that the corporation issued a statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement,” Variety reported.
A 2020 poll found that 58 percent of advertising workers believed the industry should speak out about Black Lives Matter. Despite this, Variety reported that an analysis by Vice found that “content related to the death of George Floyd and resulting protests was monetized at a rate 57% lower than other news content.”
Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 04: Detavio Samuels
Jamarlin talks to Detavio Samuels, president of Interactive One, the largest independent digital media platform focused on urban culture. Samuels leads a $30M digital media business that in 2017 acquired Bossip, Madamenoire, and HiphopWired. They discuss Richelieu Dennis’ acquisition of Essence, Facebook’s recent fumbles, and whether Complex Media is a culture vulture.
It’s a classic example of the dangerous hypocrisy many brands display. They would rather look good to avoid being canceled than be good to actually improve the human condition.
It’s something Martin said he deeply frowns upon.
“I don’t think any of the performative brands and agencies preaching they are woke after George Floyd are serious about anything if they don’t acknowledge their own place in trafficking in hurtful structures that harm Black America,” Martin said.
“Black Media has to deal with industry-wide challenges such as Facebook, Amazon, Alphabet and TikTok taking about 80 percent of the advertising pie and then has to be told you can’t get premium advertising dollars because you authentically cover massive problems with your content. It’s structural racism,” Martin continued.
“They handcuff you on what authentic content you serve to your audience while blocking you because you don’t have a large enough audience,” Martin added. “Some of these decision-makers may not even be aware of the complexity and depth of these pervasive structural issues but most don’t care enough to be aware.”
PHOTO: Courtesy of Nappy.co / @WOCInTech