The Ad Council Launches A Private Marketplace For White House Coronavirus Messaging

By Garett Sloane | April 16, 2020

As seen on AdAge

The Ad Council has launched a private ad marketplace for coronavirus PSAs powered by prominent ad technology companies so publishers can programmatically donate ad space to the cause. 

The COVID-19 messaging coming from the White House and government health agencies is now tapping into all the digital advertising tools provided by ad agencies, data providers and media companies to distribute messages across the internet.  

On Thursday, the Ad Council announced the next steps for managing what has become a highly visible advertising campaign for many Americans stuck at home during the coronavirus shutdown. The campaign has reached more than 1 million people online using donated ad space and free social media valued at $57 million, according to the Ad Council. The campaign has popularizing slogans like "alone together" and "protect yourself."  

The targeting has become more sophisticated with the help of the ad tech industry, and now the Ad Council has access to a private marketplace, a closed online advertising exchange that connects advertisers and publishers. The Ad Council set up the private marketplace with the help of The Trade Desk and Cadreon. Meanwhile, InMobi, GroundTruth, OpenX, Ogury, Xandr, TripleLift, Bustle, New York Post, EMX and Kargo will make ad space available. 

"They're carving out ad inventory and donating it to us," says Liz Johnson Deangelis, VP of growth and managed platforms at the Ad Council. "We're making sure that we're reaching as many people as possible." 

Johnson Deangelis says the group expects to serve 100 million ad impressions in the first two months. The Ad Council can target the ads to reach segments of audiences based on age, cultural orientation, health risk and other traits. 

"If there are certain states that suddenly see high rates of positive testing or see that people are not actually staying at home, we have the ability to quickly change messaging, change [locations] to be very specific to those areas and to have very relevant, addressable creative to those specific audiences," says Nancy Hall, SVP of programmatic at Cadreon. 

Acxiom, a data provider, is donating the audience segments for targeting the ads. The ad exchanges like The Trade Desk are waving their fees, and ad agencies are offering creative services for free, Johnson Deangelis says. 

U.S. technology companies have become a key part of the fight against coronavirus. Google and Apple, for instance, teamed up to trace coronavirus outbreaks using location tracking on mobile devices. Google also built a website dedicated to COVID-19 testing through the Verily Life Sciences divisions of its parent company Alphabet. 

The use of technology in the coronavirus relief efforts, however, has raised privacy concerns. In recent years, the major internet companies, including the ad tech industry, have come under scrutiny for consumer surveillance tactics. With the coronavirus fight taking priority, privacy watchdogs have urged caution.  

Johnson Deangelis says the COVID-19 PSA program is not using any personally identifiable information. "We refer to it as data for good," Johnson Deangelis says.  

She says the campaign is "about making sure these high-risk groups are getting the right information into their hands to help better protect them." 

The Ad Council has developed messages for children with Sesame Workshop. There is a video with First Lady Melania Trump. One recent video featured WWE stars, the sports entertainment company owned by Vince McMahon, who is one of President Donald Trump's economic advisors.  

There are also videos from health officials like Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Media companies like Viacom, NBCUniversal, Disney and others have been crafting PSA messages, too. 

The Ad Council says that none of the videos that feature prominent figures like the first lady will be served through the private marketplace. The marketplace will deliver the  PSAs that promote hygiene, social distancing and awareness of medical risks. 

One of the byproducts of the pandemic has been that people are spending more time online from their homes, and many websites have seen a surge in traffic. Meanwhile, there also has been a glut in available ad space because many brands avoid placing their ads on pages that display coronavirus subject matter.  

The Ad Council has worked with two companies, DoubleVerify and Integral Ad Science, to enable publishers to fill unused ad space with the public service messages. 

It's an innovative solution to one of the problems frustrating the publishing industry, says Marc Vermut, VP of marketing solutions at Neustar, a marketing and advertising technology platform. Neustar is not affiliated with the Ad Council's PSA program. 

"Suddenly there is all this inventory that brands may not yet be comfortable putting their ad copy against," Vermut says. "For the industry to come together and enable government health organizations and nonprofits to come in to increase the messaging, it's a tremendous thing. There are no privacy issues from that." 

Lucas Dawson