Alison Weissbrot
Jan 20, 2021

Why brands should advertise during the U.S. inauguration

Unpredictability aside, brands should support the democratic process and quality journalism.

Image of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Getty Images)
Image of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Getty Images)

Brands have grown twitchy when it comes to pausing, blocking and pulling advertising against the news. 

We saw exactly why on the now infamous January 6, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol as Congress convened to ceremoniously certify President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.

No brand wants to be associated with misinformation, devastation, polarization and chaos. We’ve seen this since 2017, when advertisers boycotted YouTube after spotting their ads running next to inflammatory content on the platform. 

But since then, the issue has only grown, prompting advertisers to take a chainsaw to an issue that deserves to be carefully examined with a scalpel. 

Last March, words such as “coronavirus” and “pandemic” began to top advertiser block lists, demonetizing crucial information people needed in order to protect themselves during a public health crisis. In June, brands avoided keywords associated with the Black Lives Matter protests in the perfect example of relying on “black lists” and “white lists” for a situation that is not at all black and white. 

When relying on keyword blocking, brands fail to parse out the context of an article before banning it over a red-flag keyword. For example, an advertiser can block the word “shoot” to avoid content about gun violence and inadvertently demonetize an article about a photo or a movie shoot. 

The irony is that brands probably don’t need to be so skittish around the news, as long as it's from quality sources. Eighty-four percent of U.S. consumers feel that advertising next to news content increases brand trust, and seven in 10 consumers find their chosen news sources to be trustworthy, according to the IAB.

Engagement with the news is also higher than ever, thanks to the pandemic and ongoing societal and political turmoil, creating a larger potential audience for marketers on news outlets. CNN ratings skyrocketed 85% in 2020, followed by Fox News, which saw a 45% rise, and MSNBC was up 24%, per Nielsen. The New York Times hit 7 million paid subscribers in 2020, as digital revenue surpassed print for the first time. 

I understand why, given the events at the Capitol earlier this month and the ongoing devastation of the pandemic, brands are more cautious than ever about showing up on broadcasts of today’s inauguration. 

But there’s also a bet to be made that getting involved in the historic event will not only draw mass audiences, but also align your brand with American democracy. 

For example, One Medical is taking the opportunity to launch a brand campaign during the inauguration because of the contextual alignment. 

“We wanted to use the inauguration, this moment of a new beginning [and] tremendous change, to get people thinking about the changes they could make in their own lives – whether that’s taking up a new sport, spending more time with their loved ones or working with One Medical to improve their health overall,” said CMO Doug Sweeny in a statement.

Despite a muted and heavily militarized event on the ground, the noon broadcast of the inauguration is also expected to draw in record audiences, as people tune in separately while working from home as opposed to in groups at the office. 

News, tragedy and unpredictability are unfortunately inextricable, and it’s understandable why advertisers get cold feet. But aligning with quality journalism and supporting events of national significance shouldn’t be a brand safety issue. Instead, it’s a glaring opportunity for brands to reconsider their blocklist strategies when it comes to the news. 

Today, as a new administration enters the White House with a new focus on democracy, let’s refocus our approach to advertising with trusted news outlets. 

Without advertisers, there is no quality news to support.

Campaign US

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