Marketing Briefing: The next weeks ‘will be tense’: Marketers brace for more social unrest

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Welcome to the Marketing Briefing, a weekly feature for Digiday+ members that goes deep into the world of brands, marketing and the executives shepherding them for their companies. The Marketing Briefing, which will be authored by senior marketing editor Kristina Monllos and marketing reporter Kimeko McCoy, will hit Digiday.com and inboxes every Tuesday.

We’re making this briefing available to anyone for the first two weeks (this one and next), after which it will be exclusively available to Digiday+ members. Join Digiday+ now to prevent losing access, and use promo code MARKETINGBRIEFING for 20% off a 1-year membership.

Treading cautiously

Last week, advertisers pressed pause on paid social, TV and streaming platforms following the insurrection at the Capitol Building. That advertisers did so is no surprise — they’ve had enough practice that systems are in place to pull ads quickly when the need to do so arises.

While most advertisers have returned to those channels, there’s a sense that “the next couple of weeks will be tense,” noted one agency executive, adding that agencies “have to be ready to move at any moment” should there be more unrest. Overall, marketers and agency execs are taking a wait and see approach to the current moment, staying alert and in close contact to be ready to react, i.e. pull ads, as needed. “We’re back on, but treading cautiously,” said a media buyer for an independent agency. 

“We have to remain vigilant,” said the agency executive, adding that while it has always been an on-call job it has only become more so in times of social unrest. “How do you keep a brand safe in that environment? I always think about the mindset of people receiving the message. Do you want to show up when someone is watching on TV what we saw on Wednesday? Do you want to show up in that mindset? It’s a very emotional thing.”

With that being the case, some marketers are questioning whether to advertise around the Inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden as the possibility for more unrest continues. Others are working more contingencies into their deals. One advertiser finalized a deal last week to advertise during the Inauguration and “their deal is packed with contingencies in the event that there is a problem,” according to a media buyer for a holding company agency.

“There will probably be a million conversations to reaffirm we’re good,” said the buyer for an independent agency. “If there’s any hint of anything similar we would probably recommend pausing for a lot of clients.”

The caution likely won’t end after the Inauguration. Marketers and media buyers recognize that with the country more politically polarized, the potential for social unrest doesn’t simply go away after Biden is in office.

“The reality is we have to adapt to being more flexible to world events of all sorts for brand safety purposes,” said Jeromy Sonne, managing director of Moonshine Marketing. “When this hopefully calms down there will always be something in the future. Trying to figure out when to pause, and for what brands, in regards to what’s happening and on which networks is something that we’re going to have to build into our process.”

Sonne added: “We can’t just trust that social networks (or any other channels) are default brand safe anymore.”

Even as marketers, media buyers and agency execs understand the need to be more on-call amid continued social unrest some believe there’s reason to be optimistic. “Obviously the next few weeks are most worrisome but inevitably the pendulum will swing back and we can get to some new normal,” said one agency network executive. “We’re looking at short-term caution, medium-term optimism. No one wants to be irrationally exuberant but there’s clearly nowhere to go but up.”

The role of tech

With platforms like Facebook and Twitter taking action against President Trump, the true power of social media has come even sharper into focus, according to advertisers, agency execs and media buyers, who say that last week’s events have only raised more questions about the role and power of the platforms. Some execs expect anti-trust issues to once again crop up while others expect legislation to regulate the power of tech companies to once again come into focus.

“We have to look at anti-trust and the effect it’s having on society,” said one agency exec, adding that without legislation “the algorithms are doing what’s best for companies. They are not doing what’s best for people. They’re leading people into echo chambers and that doesn’t serve anyone, just the companies. We have to make some rules of engagement. The issue with it is that I’m not sure anyone in congress is equipped to monitor these companies.”

By the numbers

The new year may be in full swing, but there is still time for New Year resolutions. For marketers, a second look at their approach to email newsletters may need to be added to that list. According to a 2020 survey by What If Media Group, here’s what marketers need to know by the numbers:

  • Only 13.1% of survey respondents felt the newsletter ads they see as being “very relevant” and 32.4% identify ads as “somewhat relevant”
  • 79.6% of respondents opted to access free content with ads instead of paying for an ad-free experience
  • Only 15% of those surveyed subscribe to only one newsletter — Kimeko McCoy

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In December, Facebook began to wage a public war with Apple over iOS changes. That war is still causing anxiety for performance marketers and direct-to-consumer brands with many interested in broadening owned channels like email, SMS and content, among others.

“The Facebook vs. Apple drama is causing a bit of anxiety,” said David Hoos, director of marketing for Conversmart in an interview with Digiday’s Monllos on Monday (1/11). “The reality is, it won’t just affect Facebook, it will affect many online advertisers that aren’t transparent about when they’re tracking behavior.”

What we’ve covered

  • With the Consumer Electronics Show taking place virtually this week, marketers and publishers alike expect dealmaking to continue despite the virtual venue, reports Kimeko McCoy and Max Willens, senior research and feature editor.
  • Advertiser interest in continuing to invest in Black media brands has continued to grow, reports senior reporter Kayleigh Barber.
  • As the cookie crumbles, advertisers’ identity crisis and the uncertainty of what comes after third-party cookies continues to be an issue, reports senior news editor Seb Joseph.

This post has been updated to correctly state What If Media Group’s finding that 15% of those surveyed subscribed to just one newsletter. Previously, the post stated that 15% of those surveyed subscribe to a newsletter for news or entertainment. We regret the error.

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