Advertising and politics don’t mix and the despite the ample evidence to this effect, brands continue to demonstrate an inability to keep themselves out of trouble.
The latest example of this: Keurig, the manufacturer of a home brewing system.
It has found itself in the cross hairs after it pulled its ads from Hannity, a political commentary cable program that is broadcast on the conservative Fox News network.
The show and its host, Sean Hannity, has come under fire after he conducted an interview with Roy Moore, a candidate for the U.S. Senate who has been accused of inappropriate behavior with underage girls.
After being asked why it its ads appeared on Hannity, the company announced on Twitter that it was taking action to ensure its ads would not appear on the program.
Angelo, thank you for your concern and for bringing this to our attention. We worked with our media partner and FOX news to stop our ad from airing during the Sean Hannity Show.
— Keurig (@Keurig) November 11, 2017
That was welcome news to some, but others saw Keurig’s move as political cow-tailing and a fierce backlash ensued. #BoycottKeurig became a top trending topic on Twitter, and individuals even began posting videos in which they destroyed their Keurig machines in what might be one of the most visually impactful brand boycotts seen yet.
Liberals are offended by this video of a Keurig being thrown off of a building.
— Collin Rugg (@CollinRugg) November 12, 2017
Forget brand safety. Companies need brand savvy
So what to make of the situation? It’s simple: Keurig messed up. Big time. In fact, the Keurig’s CEO has even admitted as much. In a statement, he wrote:
In most situations such as this one, we would “pause” our advertising on that particular program and reevaluate our go-forward strategy at a later date. That represents a prudent “business as usual” decision for us, as the protection of our brand is our foremost concern. However, the decision to publicly communicate our programming decision via our Twitter account was highly unusual. This gave the appearance of “taking sides” in an emotionally charged debate that escalated on Twitter and beyond over the weekend, which was not our intent.
I want you to know the decision to communicate our short-term media actions on Twitter was done outside of company protocols. Clearly, this is an unacceptable situation that requires an overhaul of our issues response and external communications policies and the introduction of safeguards to ensure this never happens again. Our company and brand reputations are too valuable to be put at risk in this manner.
For his part, Sean Hannity has called Keurig a victim and said that the company was “preyed on” by an organization that he claims has been targeting brands that advertise on his program.
Notwithstanding the fact that Hannity is using this incident as a way to hit back at an organization he has been dueling with, there is a valid point here: in today’s highly polarized political environment, there are a growing number of groups with political agendas that are looking for ways to attract attention. Increasingly, one of the ways they’re doing this is by trying to publicly influence the entities that fuel the media business: advertisers.
Advertisers can no longer ignore this fact. For all the talk about brand safety, advertisers also need to be brand savvy and that means being smart about how they navigate politics. If they make hasty decisions in response to the slightest politically-motivated provocations, the odds are good that eventually they are going to find themselves facing a Keurig-like backlash.
So what should advertisers do? Is it even possible for them to win?
The way companies purchase advertising has changed dramatically in recent years. Specifically, advertisers today largely target people (audiences) and not properties.
While advertisers are rethinking some of their media buying habits in the wake of this year’s brand safety and ad fraud crises, it’s unlikely that this trend is fundamentally going to reverse.
Given that, brands should consider the possibility that they’re going to need to become more active in educating consumers about how they purchase ads. Specifically, they need to be clear that they’re trying to reach a diverse range of consumers and that involves advertising on a diverse range of properties. That means their ads are likely to appear on properties that publish opinions on topics that can be polarizing, including politics.
While this fact obviously isn’t going to appease those who are looking for for opportunities to deliver ultimatums to brands, advertisers need to come to grips with the fact that it’s simply not viable to pull ads from major media properties the minute those properties publish or broadcast something that is slightly controversial or upsets a particular interest group.
The sooner brands take a stand and make clear to their stakeholders that they’re not going to respond to every controversy that causes somebody to demand that they pull their ads and that they’re not going to make all of their media buying decisions public, the sooner they can start to avoid Keurig-like backlashes.