Why can’t brands speak to both my kids?

Christopher Kenna, CEO & Co-Founder of Brand Advance explores the digital media landscape, brand safety and keyword blocking and invites brands to consider how they can reach every community.

Christopher Kenna

CEO & Co-Founder Brand Advance


There has been quite a bit of talk lately regarding key word blocking and brand safety and how this is a factor in why many brands are not reaching potentially whole communities. It can also mean their products and services are not being seen digitally. I wanted to give my personal view on this.

I'm a gay, mixed race male. Before I started working in the world of media and advertising I served in the British Army with tours of Iraq, Germany and Afghanistan. I was also bringing up two children, one of whom is basically white while the other is mixed race. It might seem strange to say this but bear with me.

Skip forward many years and a lot of life changing experiences; I'm now working in an industry I truly love. But it has one major problem. The digital media landscape, due to blacklists - personally think this word should be banned - and brand safety key-word block requests by both agencies and brands, cannot reach both my children and even me equally.

A recent survey by VICE Media brought this to the forefront. Other surveys have found that up to 57% of neutral or positive stories on major publications are incorrectly flagged as unsafe for advertising. When you start to look at media across LGBTQ+, BAME or even disability this percentage can rise dramatically. 73% of safe LGBTQ+ related news content is being blocked, a statistic that was recently brought to discussion by Ben Cohen, CEO at Pink News, when he said "A lot of ad networks are blocking the word lesbian because they lazily think the word lesbian equals porn".

Wouldn't that be a great PR story for a brand; how their ad spend gave space to the voices of the unheard.

Christopher Kenna

The reason I earlier mentioned the ethnicity of both my children is because of several realities. Not only are the brand safety policies blocking brands access to me and the other 4.8m (£81 billion spend) of the LGBTQ+ community in the UK and $1 Trillion in the US. But also, because words like black, hood, Asian and interracial are some of the top blocked words on the internet. Brands can reach one of my children with ease but my mixed-race son who spends far too much time on the internet reading about computer games, or music and fashion publications related to his ethnicity; we/the industry cannot reach him. 

The industry is waking up to this because of the work of people like Jerry Daykin, Head of Media at GSK, who alongside myself, is making it a personal mission to ensure all agencies and brands consider this when reviewing current brand safety policies.

There is also another angle to consider. If advertisers are blocking access to these publications, then how can we expect them to survive? And, when they start to fall away, like the recent closure of Gay Star News, who will pick up the voices of these communities?

This is also coupled with the fact that ad dollars being spent on these engaged publications trickles down into these communities through wages and initiatives. This allows the whole industry to ensure that consumer spend is doing some good in the community and world. And wouldn't that be a great PR story for a brand; how their ad spend gave space to the voices of the unheard.

Guest Author

Christopher Kenna

CEO & Co-Founder Brand Advance


Christopher Kenna is CEO and Co-Founder of Brand Advance (BA), a company which connect brands with diverse audiences globally, through insights, media and creative that more authentically engages these communities. Chris is also the Director of Diversity and Inclusion at OUTvertising, the Advertising industry Lobbying Group and as a mixed race, out gay father, is a strong advocate for diversity and representation within the media and advertising industry. Chris is an award-winning entrepreneur having recently received the Innovator of the Year Award at the second annual Ex-Forces in Business Awards and was shortlisted for Chief Executive of the Year at the Inclusive Companies Awards.

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