As marketers, we’re all adjusting to a new reality: much of what we knew (or thought we knew) about American society has been turned on its head.
But just weeks into the new administration, brands are quickly getting a sense for how the new powers-that-be in D.C. operate. For some brands, this can mean a wholesale strategy re-evaluation. It’s a strange new world, even for a political science major and former public opinion researcher like me.
And for marketers navigating the complexities of digital advertising, where context and message are often inseparable, it raises some very tough questions.
Some brands have already taken sides, delivering messages that are consistent with their culture and brand promise. Airbnb took an aggressive stance on the refugee crisis, highlighting the urgency of helping those “in need of a place to belong.”
Their message — delivered in an internal memo, on their website and social channels and in a Super Bowl commercial — focused on Airbnb’s mission and values. And they backed it up with a commitment to contribute $4 million to a refugee relief agency. It’s a bold strategy, but it makes perfect sense for this non-traditional brand.
For most brands, though, where they deliver their message is just as important as the message they’re delivering.
Context is king
Understanding context has always been critical for advertisers striving to build brand equity and protect reputation. You wouldn’t place a movie trailer on an illegal downloads site, and you certainly wouldn’t want your energy drink ad to run next to an article on the latest sports doping scandal.
Fortunately, today’s digital marketers have robust and reliable brand safety controls to ensure those context errors don’t happen.
But the current political climate presents marketers with a fresh challenge. News and opinion sites on the extreme political fringes are suddenly in the spotlight, and millions of consumers spend time on them.
In a sharply divided country, should you advertise on sites expressing views that conflict with your brand values? Can you afford not to?
What’s a CMO to do?
These are excellent questions, ones our clients are asking with increasing urgency. Brands want to reach as much of their audience as possible. But with digital advertising, the environment where your advertising is placed is infinitely more complex.
Some advertisers have already boycotted Breitbart, citing brand reputation concerns. Ad servers like AppNexus have banned the site from its inventory. Other brands are taking a wait-and-see approach, and still others — like Airbnb — are embracing an opposition message.
One thing we know for certain is that these brand decisions can have a lasting impact on a company’s bottom line. And they can’t be taken lightly.
Consider your customers
When it comes to making these tough calls, no industry has it harder than CPG. When Kellogg announced that it would no longer advertise on Breitbart, the site’s editor fought back with his own #DumpKelloggs campaign. Budweiser is facing a similar boycott following their immigration-themed Super Bowl ad.
The fact is, CPG brands serve everyone, regardless of political persuasion. Everyone buys toilet paper and soap, and everyone eats. Those enviable demographics — essentially 100% of the population — mean that mass-market brands must walk a fine line.
Enter technology (and talent)
It’s true that our new political reality is made even more complex by the digital advertising environment. But that’s where things get more hopeful. Technology — and the experts in your organization who make it work — can also help you navigate this new reality.
Is your programmatic arm, whether in-house or external, protecting your brand from risky content? If you can’t answer this question with a confident “yes,” then it’s time to step in and increase your oversight.
Let your talent and technology help you. Decide what matters for your brand, what doesn’t, and what level of risk you’re willing to take. Then charge your team with bringing that strategy to life.
With basic techniques like blacklisting, and more sophisticated techniques like page scoring across various risk categories (for both direct and programmatic buys), you can find a balanced approach to fighting new brand threats while still hitting campaign goals.
In this strange new world, one thing hasn’t changed: your responsibility to do right by your brand. That means deciding what “right” means for your brand. But just as important, it means relying on your teams and technology so you can focus on long-term marketing success — however our new political reality unfolds.