U by Kotex created a private marketplace for Black media outlets in order to elevate Black voices and Black artists.
Objective and Context:
Seventy-three percent of Americans support the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Yet U by Kotex believed that stories about the BLM movement, the murder of George Floyd, and the everyday experiences of Black people were being regularly (even if unintentionally) censored in the media.
How? Advertisers use keyword exclusion lists to ensure that their brands don't appear alongside content that doesn't align with their values or show up alongside stories where an ad may seem out of place. But this has unintentionally led to a lack of financial support for hard news and critical stories despite high reader interest. The problem goes beyond news and critical stories as well; it affects lifestyle and fashion content, and more. A major legacy publisher for the community confided that words like "dope" or "bomb," everyday jargon in Black culture referring to, say, being happy with a hairstyle or outfit, are often flagged as stories about drugs or violence, leading to servers blocking advertisements on that page/publisher. Some sources estimate that U.S. publishers lost a total of $2.8 billion in revenue in 2019 due to incorrect blocking of safe content. And in recent months, several publishers and technology companies have publicly shared how keywords around Black lives are disproportionally being affected — all of which leads to demonetization, and then, effectively, censorship of Black voices.
Research showed people want brands to take action to support BLM and diversity, equality, and inclusion efforts — not just talking the talk, but are walking the walk to take action.
Kimberly Clark's U by Kotex (a feminine hygiene product brand) strove to drive intentional investment and support the Black community through journalism, content creators, and the arts. To do so, it created a Black Community Private Marketplace (PMP).
A study from CHEQ and the University of Baltimore found that online journalism lost $2.8 billion in revenue in 2019. Relatedly, U by Kotex found that 67 percent of Americans agree that brands have an important role to play to speak out against racial inequality and injustice, and 65 percent of Americans agree that they are more likely to support brands that take meaningful action around racial inequality and Black Lives Matter rather than simply making posts and statements. That stat rises to 71 percent for multicultural Americans.
According to Nielsen, in 2018, Black consumers also commanded roughly $1.3 trillion in annual buying power, but long-time publications in the community were shutting their doors and/or filing for bankruptcy due to lack of funding. Ad Age released and a top verification partner confirmed that content with words/phrases such as "black people" were being flagged as non-brand safe, thereby defunding spaces that these topics were important to. Therefore, Black publishers had to decide between covering topics important to the community and being censored and defunded.
U by Kotex recognized a way to drive intentional investment and support the Black community, namely, through journalism, content creators, and the arts, and though a bespoke Black Community private marketplace (PMP).
This was a campaign about elevating Black voices that drove media dollars to digital platforms and publications in the Black community that were disappearing due to lack of funding.
While there has been progress made in the area around semantic keyword processing, there's still much to do, and thus exclusion lists are often unintentionally blocking content that some brands would like to support. In turn, this moves money away from publishers that need it and has created a form of digital censorship in which ad dollars dictate what people do and don't read.
U by Kotex's goal was the raise awareness and divert media dollars to support the Black community in a meaningful way. U by Kotex knew that people can't fight against racism and structural inequality if Black voices are being silenced and the brand was proud to invest in Black journalists, content creators, and artists.
Overall Campaign Execution:
It's impossible not to discuss inclusivity without understanding and acknowledging that the Black Community is uniquely diverse; Black people are not a monolith and the community is no longer willing to solely identify as the advertising industry once labeled them: African-Americans. Kotex's initiative was original because it curated and reached voices across the Black Diaspora: descendants of West and Central Africa taken to various places in the Americas, meaning the effort reached first generation African, Afro-LatinX, Caribbean American audiences, and more. Though Americans in the Black Diaspora share the "Black experience," culturally, there are nuances that are important to each group. Whether it took the form of tapping into an Afro-beats or Reggae playlist or serving an ad on LatinX endemic sites like Mitu, U by Kotex wanted to truly be inclusive of the Black community.
Not only was U by Kotex's Black community PMP a programmatic marketplace that focused on supporting journalists and publishers who were catering to and writing stories for the Black community; it also included ways to directly support Black content creators and artists across the Black Diaspora.
Strategically, the PMP featured everything from partners such as Pod Digital (the first Black-owned and curated podcast network) to a deal with Zefr that brought in over 150 Black YouTube creators, such as Jackie Aina (who advocates for people of color in the cosmetics industry) and Chescaleigh (an activist and comedian). The offering was managed in-house with U by Kotex's dedicated hands-on keyboard programmatic trading team.
The marketplace was a curated programmatic marketplace comprised of over 25 digital media publications that are Black-first, Black-owned, or Black-centered, as well as partners who had a history of positively telling Black stories or who could financially uplift Black creators/artists. The inventory suite was comprehensive, with digital display, audio, podcasts, programmatic sponsorship opportunities, and video across the U.S all available.
All deals were negotiated on a one-to-one basis and unlike typical programmatic deals, these were negotiated with a 75 percent or better viewability goal. Though no keyword exclusion or inclusion lists were applied, DoubleVerify monitoring was appended to the campaign setup, ensuring that clients had brand-safe scale within the programmatic environment in the Trade desk or DV360. The campaign also negotiated an added value measurement study with Lucid to track brand awareness, consideration, favorability, and attribute.
This activation was web-based mobile. U by Kotex looked to launch this experience via banners to achieve maximum scale among a highly targeted audience. Leveraging web-based mobile also made the effort's message of support for the Black community more visible to consumers. Unlike on other traditional channels, consumers were able to engage with the content.
The Black Community PMP drove a 900 times improvement on clickthrough rates and a 1.34 times improvement on video completion rates for U by Kotex — both versus previous benchmarks.
Though the campaign is still live, with a brand study gauging impact on brand favorability and awareness, the results of the campaign to-date show a 3.7 times higher CTR, 25 percent greater video completion rate, and two times the viewability when comparing it to the standard open market Kotex programmatic campaigns.
Other metrics were also favorable: Brand awareness increased by six percent and brand consideration increased by 3.2 percent. Moreover, the effort saw a five percent lift in brand favorability.