Supports Queer Voices | Skyy Vodka

If this entry was a published article, chances are that it’d get blacklisted – because it uses words like “gay,” “sexuality,” and “trans.” The industry has created a tension where we want to feature LGBTQ people in ads, but are systemically annihilating queer media with biased brand safety algorithms.

Project Overview

Challenge

In the U.S., poorly applied keyword exclusion lists have cost journalism an estimated $2.8 billion by blocking safe content that is incorrectly flagged as problematic. If this award submission was a published article, chances are that it’d get blacklisted – because it uses words like “gay,” “sexuality,” and “trans.”

The industry has created a tension where we want to feature LGBTQ people in ads, but are systemically annihilating queer media with biased brand safety algorithms.

Advertisers have hundreds to over a thousand words on exclusions lists to ensure brands appear alongside content that reflects complementary topics or brand values, or avoid those in conflict. But ultimately the process results in a lack of financial support for different types of content (no matter its tone or the writer’s intent), with a particular impact on the LGBTQ community, forcing numerous publishers and voices to shut down or severely downsize. As much as 73% of neutral or positive LGBTQ online news which has been incorrectly flagged by this algorithmic bias in media buying.

Words like “sexuality,” “queer,” “trans” and “gay” can be used in ways that are sexual and discriminatory, or in ways that are empowering and affirming. And the content in pieces that discuss things like “bullying” or “violence” can differ in their message from article to article. An aggressive keyword exclusion list lacks the flexibility to identify the difference—it lacks the technological processing to understand important context around keywords.

 Strategy

SKYY Vodka worked with over a dozen queer-owned and operated publications and larger publishers who positive cover LGBTQ rights. The partners included the first queer publisher in the U.S., The Advocate, as well as publications such as The Guardian (their LGBTQ content),  them., Buzzfeed (their LGBTQ page), Out Magazine, Vox Media and many more.

On each of these sites, we ensured words like transgender, bi, bisexual, drag, gay, and lesbian were not blacklisted to fund their stories. We created custom assets with SKYY Vodka’s spokesperson, RuPaul’s Drag Race superstar Dusty Ray Bottoms, to create contextual alignment.

We ran these banners across LGBTQ stories to fund journalism – reinforcing that digital discrimination can be ended one brand dollar at a time.

Execution

As a LGBTQ ally, SKYY Vodka set out to take a stand to support LGBTQ voices and journalism, and counter an issue that has been crushing this community.

As marketers seek to protect their brands from appearing in the wrong environments, today’s brand safety technology has inadvertently diverted media dollars from LGBTQ publishers and journalists through keyword exclusion lists. It has created a form of digital censorship in which ad dollars dictate what we do and don’t read.

While the industry grapples with how better represent queer people SKYY has done that for decades. If being an LGBTQ ally means applying power to promote equity being an allied brand means using the power of dollars to make sure queer stories are told.

We wanted to place every dollar towards making sure queer media prevails.

We developed the first LGBTQ private marketplace (PMP) to address the issue. The LGBTQ PMP leverages an inclusion list of publishers, and have guaranteed brand safety standards for advertisers. It aggregates publishers into one negotiated inclusion list so that brands support LGBTQ-specific publications as well as the LGBTQ content at broader publications. SKYY Vodka is the first-mover, taking a stand to support LGBTQ voices and journalism. The brand has long been a supporter of LGBTQ rights and representation in media, sponsoring numerous initiatives and voices in the community year-round, from its “Toast to Marriage” campaign to being the very first spirit brand to release an advertisement featuring a lesbian couple and more.

Results

This campaign is newly launched. While we’re yet to have brand metrics, we conducted neuro research to identify whether there has been an increase in ad-recall, confidence in brand and positive messaging.

  • Including the same ad (general asset, not queer-targeted) in queer media resulted in 2.8X higher memory-encoding (statistically significant) when compared to the same ad in non-queer media
  • This is a really, really big number and is reporting at a 95% confidence interval
  • Queer ads embedded in queer media resulted in a 13% lift in memory encoding, compared to non-queer ads embedded in queer media
  • A much smaller lift, indicating that the context/publisher is largely driving the memory lift (good for brands w/o queer assets)
  • Queer ads embedded in queer media were 30% more positively encoded than queer ads embedded in heteronormative media
  • This is where we see the largest asset-specific differences
Awards & recognition
Festival of Media Global 2020
Festival of Media Global 2020 Silver - Best Use of Digital Media
Festival of Media Global 2020
Festival of Media Global 2020 Highly Commended - Best Distribution and Amplification of Content