Brands generally don’t want to be associated with sexual harassment and hate speech, but there are a few reasons marketers keep getting stuck in these bad situations. Taking a quick look at ways companies can avoid being linked to Fox’s alleged sexual predators and Breitbart’s and YouTube’s alt-right troubles, I’ll propose solutions that can stave off brand Armageddon.
Below the bulleted news summary, marketers will find outlines of and proposed answers to their context-related problems.
To synopsize the current brand snafus:
- The New York Times reports on Tuesday that Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, BMW of North America, GlaxoSmithKline, Allstate, Constant Contact, Untuckit and Sanofi Consumer HealthCare are among the marketers pulling their ads from Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News because “five women who had accused Mr. O’Reilly of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior received settlements totaling about $13 million.”
- Adweek reports on Monday that another woman is naming Fox News in a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit in relation to unwanted advances from former CEO Roger Ailes.
- Three women are suing Fox News for allegedly being “subjected to racial harassment at the network,” the Times says on Tuesday.
- Google’s YouTube is trying to reassure marketers their ads won’t appear next to white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan member David Duke’s videos and the like, AFP reports on Tuesday.
This NSFW song on YouTube mentions a few celebrities marketers may not want endorsing their brands:
Data and machines don’t have all of the answers.
Case-in-point: Advertisers began a mass exodus of Breitbart.com in December 2016 because they realized their brands were appearing next to what they deemed was hate speech.
However, in a March 26 article, the Times points out that blacklisting sites via ad networks and agencies isn’t foolproof. “Brands Try to Blacklist Breitbart, But Ads Slip Through, Anyway” shows that retargeting means brands follow consumers wherever they go, and they may be going to check out Breitbart because of the news about the publisher.
“As we become more aware of these extreme news environments, they’re actually gaining more traction in the marketplace,” the Times quotes of Joe Barone, managing partner of digital ad operations for GroupM, the media buying arm of the ad giant WPP. “They generate more inventory going on exchanges, and the likelihood of showing up on these sites even if blacklisted goes up.”
That means even if consumers are rubberneckers and don’t really like the extreme sites, they’ll notice the brands there. (The Times says consumers spotted Nordstrom on Breitbart and “were quick to take screenshots and question the company on Twitter.”)
So, in addition to direct ad buying, marketers may want to build their blacklists into their retargeting platforms.
It’s surprising that Google proposes machines fix a problem machines created on YouTube.
AFP reports on Tuesday that “Google chief business officer Phillip Schindler recently apologized and said the company was taking a ‘tougher stance’ on hateful, offensive or derogatory content while ramping up safeguards to make sure ads only appear with acceptable material from legitimate creators.”
That tougher stance is coming from machine-learning/AI that will catch objectionable content and enforce advertiser preferences, Google told AFP on Monday.
So an automated process placed the ads next to the hateful content, but a different automated process will make sure that won’t happen? That doesn’t sound foolproof.
In fairness, Google says it is allowing third-party oversight — which is happening in the case of its ad metrics, too, thanks to complaints from advertisers including colossus Procter and Gamble.
Still, as I always do, I advocate paid human oversight of the automated process. (Google and Facebook don’t always pay for oversight and, in fact, they often seem to be trying to trim their content creation/editing budgets. For instance, a trade association is one of the major third-party ad metric reviewers.)
Cost vs. Brand Reputation
It’s understandable that in a fragmented media world, marketers pay pennies to trustworthy publishers with fewer eyeballs than they’d like and instead concentrate their budgets on sure things. But sometimes those sure things have easily visible red flags.
For instance, any advertiser feeling blindsided by the August 2016 controversy surrounding Olympian Ryan Lochte hadn’t been paying attention when the reality TV star used in Speedo ads said, according to CNNMoney, “I always pee in the pool … doesn’t everyone?”
And any marketer feeling blindsided by O’Reilly needs to remember one word uttered more than a decade ago: Felafel.
(The link is to NSFW content on The Smoking Gun about a lawsuit regarding what O’Reilly says he will do to a woman using a falafel.)
So how much is a brand reputation worth? Heading to the more reputable, small publishers, or what the Times deems as a mega-hit. (The Times even counts as having fewer eyeballs than O’Reilly.)
“‘The O’Reilly Factor,’ which draws almost four million viewers a night, generated more than $446 million in advertising revenue from 2014 through 2016, according to the research firm Kantar Media,” reads the article.
So an ad during the show may bring in millions in revenue, but isn’t a brand reputation priceless? If marketers treat ad buying like a relationship, they may look more closely for red flags. (And, like many, ignore them in favor of a fulfilling bond.)
While associating brands with red flag wavers may be dumb, marketers sabotaging themselves is just stupid.
I advocated then and I advocate now, on Equal Pay Day, that marketers hire different people, AKA a diverse workforce. Those personnel may not tell you what you want to hear, but they will say what you need to hear.
For instance, even if Bloomingdale’s did have a diverse marketing team working on the “ad in its catalog that appears to encourage date rape,” it didn’t appear as though the brand listened to the women on the team. In November 2015, the brand apologized for alienating consumers with the ad.
So my advice? Don’t. Just don’t.
Come up with a better idea during a brainstorming session with people who aren’t like you. And then try to make sure a human watches where it’s placed.
What do you think, marketers?
Please respond in the comments section below.