Brands are struggling to navigate the news -- especially in the current climate. When potentially divisive events occur, do they stay away to avoid tarnishing the brand? The answer is not as easy as you would think.
Brands hit pause during potentially divisive news events
After the Capitol rioting and in the lead-up to the inauguration, many marketers took a temporary time out. They instructed agencies to halt all activity that surrounded news content, while some went further and paused social activity as well.
But what happens when it's time to turn things back on?
When major events deemed “not brand safe” occur, marketers take stock of brand protocols. They constantly evaluate which types of content to surround, which keywords to block before ads even appear, and the category types to filter.
The problem, however, is that the internet is a pretty big space.
Keyword blocking and category filters are blunt instruments. Brands that block words and phrases like “Capitol riots” or “racism” run the risk of siphoning off funds from news sources that people rely on for information simply because they report on racism, rather than being racist themselves.
If we simply eliminate all content that references any kind of upheaval, we run the risk of unintentionally forcing news sites to under-index on that necessary content because it's not garnering ad dollars.
Is all news created equal?
Many brands have moratoriums on news. They filter out the entire category of news in favor of entertainment or sports or music. This makes sense when the decision is based on a strategy designed with a deliberate context or audience interest in mind.
Yet these decisions often are made unilaterally as a way to avoid untrustworthy or unsavory environments.
Brands often find themselves in places that technology can't weed out -- digital channels or social platforms built on deliberate misinformation can skate by because they are not classified as “news” and don't use blocked keywords in their headlines.
What is the role of social?
Social environments are particularly dicey. In recent weeks, social platforms have taken deliberate action to remove people from their platforms, increasing quality control to block certain content.
Until now, social platforms resisted this type of action, claiming that they are simply technology platforms and not responsible for the content that users access.
They have claimed that they are not in the business of trust or influence, with the responsibility to arbitrate that information. But of course, we all accept that they are hugely influential.
While marketers have meetings and make decisions about
keywords and brand safety, something bigger lies at the heart of their dilemma: trust.
Brands extract value from appearing in trusted environments.
Trusted sources garner more receptivity from readers -- they pay more attention and they remember.
Responsibility and trust go hand in hand. News organizations take that responsibility seriously, and social platforms have begun to acknowledge their innate responsibility as well.
Meanwhile, new tools like NewsGuard have also launched in an effort to provide greater transparency and nuanced assessments of news content.
Brands also have a responsibility. Ad dollars fund the news and social ecosystem -- and marketers have a duty to consider how to identify, measure, and reward trust.
That means leveling up conversations and acknowledging the nuances and limitations of the blunt instruments that are available today to sharpen the focus on the hard work of really interrogating the media that matters.
Especially now -- with a new administration in place and tensions running high -- it will be critical for brands to have a perspective on news that is trusted, influential, and engaging.