TV advertisers rethink aversion to news shows as they adapt their ad messages

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One agency executive has a financial services client that, like too many companies, typically avoids advertising against TV news shows altogether. However, this advertiser has reversed that stance as the coronavirus pandemic has worsened. The client and its agency felt that it needed to counter the negativity of the news so that people don’t feel a need to cash out their accounts and hide their money in mattresses. So it created new ads specifically to run against news programming and tell audiences that the current economic downturn will eventually subside and the market will bounce back. “They’re pivoting and trying to give a positive sentiment to where positive sentiment is lacking,” said this agency executive.

That financial services company is not the only advertiser overcoming the usual aversion to news programming. While many advertisers continue to steer clear of the news, agency executives said that they are seeing some clients revisiting that position and starting to shift ad dollars to running campaigns against TV news shows — provided they have the right ads to run.

“Some just try to avoid news, but then some are rethinking it,” said a second agency executive. For the latter clients, this executive said the thinking goes, “If we can change our message and people are watching news and the message resides in news well, then maybe we should do that because news could be driving some people to order out or something like that.”

As that statement implies, advertisers are not necessarily warming up to the news purely out of some sense of duty. That may be a contributing factor, but the bigger motivation appears to be that those companies still advertising are seeing that, with so many people tuning into the news these days, it can be better for their businesses to advertise against the news than to avoid it.

With sports not happening, news shows have stepped in as the programming genre that offers advertisers the largest live audience, according to agency executives. For some advertisers, such as streaming services, the reach that news offers right now has sufficed to convince them to redirect the ads that were intended to run against live sports to run instead against live news. “News is an area that some clients want to gravitate to because they know they will get more reach,” said a third agency executive. 

A streaming service can ask people tuning into type of programming to check out another without coming across as tone-deaf. But for other advertisers, before they can run ads against the news, they have needed to come up with new ads to run. “Clients are shifting the tone of their creative so they might feel more comfortable in news if they have creative that is sensitive to what’s going on right now,” said a fourth agency executive.

In addition to some advertisers and their agencies taking it upon themselves to craft new campaigns to suit the news, TV networks have been working to incentivize companies to run ads against news shows. The networks have not dropped their ad prices for news inventory, but they have been offering creative services at no charge to design PSA-style ads for advertisers and dropping fees for custom marketing programs, the agency executives said.

The agency executives said that seemingly every TV network group is offering the aforementioned incentives for companies to advertise against news shows, but they cited NBCUniversal as the most publicly representative example. The company has created public service announcements that call out individual advertisers as sponsors, and it has waived fees, such as talent and integration fees, for the custom marketing programs it creates.

“As an advertiser, our goal is always to negotiate those fees away or have networks cover it themselves. In situations like these, the networks are much more amenable to covering the costs,” said the third agency executive.

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