Vice media nixes 25 words from list allowed to be blacklisted by advertisers. See what is now ‘safe.’

Changes aimed at allegedly boosting business and pushing for inclusivity were touted by Vice as the media company announced it would not allow blacklisting of certain controversial topics.

Keywords such as “gay”, “fat”, and “Muslim” will no longer be allowed to appear on a list of editorial topics advertising agencies have previously included on a so-called “blacklist” which is typically used to ensure brand safety, according to the New York Post.

(Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for VICE Media)

“Vice will no longer blacklist 25 keywords that are commonly classified as ‘not safe’ but in actuality are words that describe our audience and your customers,” SVP of client partnerships, Cavel Kahn, said at a Digital Content NewFronts marketing event last week in New York, announcing changes intended to streamline

“We’re going to great lengths to ensure brand safety,” Kahn said, “but we need to do it in a way we’re not creating bias.”

More than two dozen words –  including transgender, Jewish, Muslim, hijab, Christian, Latina, Arab, Middle Eastern, immigrant and interracial – that appear on lists from marketers will no longer be honored by Vice, despite the advertisers’ requests to not have their ads run next to content they deem objectionable. The list could change, and even grow, over time.

Doug Jossem, Vice’s North America chief revenue officer, found it “mind-boggling” that marketers would have objections to running ads because they were making decisions about what is safe for the brand they are paid to represent.

“The words ‘lesbian’ and ‘gay’ and ‘LGBTQ’ should never be blocked, or something marketers don’t support, because these are their consumers,” Jossem said, according to Adweek. “It’s mind-boggling that they would do that.”

“Our industry has taken brand safety to extremes,” Sarah Harrison, SVP, creative studios, contended.

“Bias should not be the collateral damage of our much-needed brand safety efforts,”  Kahn said, encouraging advertisers to check their own blacklists and to implement changes that would make them more inclusive.

The changes are part of an effort by the company to streamline its website and editorial structure, with many of the more than a dozen standalone sites on food, technology and fashion being brought in under the one roof.

“That’s been a huge miss for us, because the content has been great, but marketers don’t even know necessarily that it’s us,” Jossem said of the previous channel-specific strategy by Vice. “On top of it, it’s hard for a consumer to navigate between all of these sub-brands as well.”

According to Adweek:

All of the changes are the continuation of an ongoing rethinking and repositioning of the company’s business under the leadership of CEO Nancy Dubuc, a longtime A&E Networks executive who joined Vice Media in March 2018. Since her arrival, Dubuc has made a number of changes intended to streamline the company’s business and to double down on big-screen projects and branded content. In February, Dubuc oversaw a round of layoffs that affected 10 percent of the company, or about 250 people, after the company missed its revenue goals.

Dubuc has also been tasked with cleaning up the company’s image, which had for years been defined by the personality of its brash co-founder Shane Smith. Smith stepped down as CEO last year after the company weathered sexual harassment allegations and allegations of gender discrimination.


The flagging business also just recently received a $250 million infusion of funds from investors including left-wing billionaire George Soros, according to The Wall Street Journal. The financing firm, 23 Capital, led the group of investors which included Soros Fund Management.


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