News of the Impeachment Hasn’t Affected Most Brands’ Suitability Strategies—Yet

10/17 By John Bonanno

American news outlets are going to be busy over the next couple of weeks. After receiving a complaint from a whistleblower, the House of Representatives has launched a formal impeachment query regarding if President Trump asked the Ukrainian president to investigate the son of potential future political opponent, Joe Biden. Quick history lesson: in terms of US politics, America could be heading into relatively uncharted territory as only two US presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, have been impeached before— Nixon resigned before he could have been impeached.

Given the amount of media attention already devoted to the topic, as well as the conversations that will inevitably continue as the story develops, digital advertisers face an interesting predicament: Is advertising on content adjacent to impeachment news suitable for their brand?

On one hand, articles about impeachment will create advertising inventory on well-respected news sites like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times for highly engaged readers. On the other hand, advertising on content alongside impeachment news could be seen as supporting the news outlets’ lean or turn off Americans who are exhausted about politics in general. So where do advertisers stand?

So far, the data suggests that advertisers aren’t willing to abandon impeachment news yet.

Advertisers often turn to keyword blocking on top of their usual brand safety protections, building lists to keep them away from content that feels unsuitable for their brands. On average, only a few additional advertisers have begun blocking the term “impeachment” since the impeachment query began at the beginning of September 2019—some advertisers may have previously blocked the term due to implications of the Muller Report. With regard to keyword blocking, however, “impeachment” is surpassed by blacklisting specific countries.

The maximum number of advertisers blocking either “Russia” or “the Ukraine” is nearly eight times higher than those blocking impeachment. In their eyes, the country names themselves are considered a greater brand suitability risk, relative to whether the president stays or goes.

So what steps should advertisers take regarding political content and brand suitability, especially as the news becomes increasingly more political the closer we get to November 2020?

1. Advertisers need to confirm and refine their brand suitability strategy in regards to political content.

Advertisers should already know what type of content is and is not acceptable for their brand, but might need to ask themselves: are we aligned when it comes to political news? While America can only hope for minimal political scandals between now and November 2020, history suggests that advertisers should be prepared for anything. How does your brand feel about running in digital news content about a major candidate being caught with illegal drugs? Suitable for your brand, or to be avoided? Either way, it is important to proactively develop a brand suitability strategy for political content as the race ramps up in 2020.

2. Advertisers should explore expanding blocking terms to maintain brand suitability standards.

Although the impeachment story initially focused on Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president, House Democrats have recently named, interviewed, and even subpoenaed other key players as a next step in the process. Depending on how the story grows, “impeachment” might be a brand suitable term, but individual people involved in the impeachment inquiry, may not.

3. Advertisers need to be ready for action.

As with all developing stories, the news can change. It’s possible that the impeachment story fizzles out or comes to a head as new information surfaces. If new information becomes available that pushes news content into unsuitable territory, advertisers need to take quick action to protect their brands or risk the consequences of appearing next to unsafe content.

While brand suitability will always be based on individual preferences, the impeachment inquiry challenges advertisers to think about politics ahead of 2020. Currently, advertisers aren’t willing to deliberately limit their scale on impeachment-related news content just yet. However, consider this a wake-up call that election and political news content is coming, perhaps earlier than expected. Is your brand suitability strategy ready for it?

This post originally ran in Adweek on October 3, 2019.

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