The turmoil following Wednesday’s storm of Capitol Hill by insurgents who protested the 2020 presidential election caused many brands to stop advertising. It’s a tactic that has become all too common in our politically charged times.
Jayde I. Powell, Head of Social at the sparkling tonic brand Sunwink, wrote in Adweek, “Brands: This is not a marketing moment.” However, some marketers decided to take a stand after the election results on Thursday morning Congress had been officially ratified. Household names like Coca-Cola and Ben & Jerry’s have publicly released their stance on the procedures, with Unilever’s own ice cream brand being the most direct.
There wasn’t a protest yesterday – it was a riot to maintain white supremacy.
– Ben & Jerry’s (@benandjerrys) January 7, 2021
Meanwhile, the majority of media buying teams proved to be more cautious as many decided to take a break and everyone pondered when it would be safe to return.
Implement emergency plans
After the stormy news cycle of 2020, these game books have been refined quite well. This includes crisis response tactics for acute news events like the BLM protests, as well as adapting to more chronic issues like adopting an appropriate tone of voice during the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, given the divisive election season, some media buyers had wired the potential for controversy.
“Prior to the election, we shared guidelines with all of our teams to determine the levels of branded inventory for customers,” Kieley Taylor, GroupM’s global director of partnerships, told Adweek. “While we couldn’t have known that events were going to be so grave, we knew that something could happen and that brands may not necessarily be comfortable.”
Taking a break isn’t an option for everyone
Michelle Capasso, director of media services at Connelly Partners, also explained how her agency advised clients on ad spend, while her team assessed public opinion on social media in the days that followed.
Both Capasso and Taylor found that not all advertisers inherently have the luxury of taking a break, especially those that rely on direct response campaigns.
“However, performance advertisers stay on course unless they have the opportunity to add substance to the ongoing debate on social media,” added Capasso. “To that end, as we saw with early boycotts, some advertisers don’t necessarily have the luxury of shifting the budget to other news and information outlets right now. Hence, it is important to work with each client individually based on their uniqueness, goals, budget and tolerance for the debate within the platform. “
GroupM’s Taylor noted how such tactics were refined in various parts of the 2020 news cycle, particularly related to the Stop Hate for Profit movement, which saw many brands pause ad spend on Facebook for the month of July. “We have crisis communication templates for advertisers so we can understand from both a communication and approval perspective and based on the red line,” she explained.
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, traditional news publishers were vocal about the problem of risk-averse brands blocking bulk keywords in a general election year, particularly the potential impact on democracy by effectively defusing reliable and accurate sources for reporting . Companies responsible for reviewing inventory sources have been criticized over the past year. To encourage advertisers to stay on course, some publishers have developed their own brand security tools.