Ad Life During Wartime

Early Thursday, Russia attacked Ukraine. The outlook was far from rosy for Ukrainians. “By evening, I think half of Ukraine will be Russian,” said one 18-year-old man on the scene, quoted in The New York Times.

So far, there’s no official death count. This morning, the BBC estimated that 10 civilians had been killed. While no one knows how long this war will last or what will happen next, we can look at historical data to get an idea of the cost for the ad biz.

In 2003, during the first week of the Iraqi War, U.S. media lost $77 million in advertising revenue, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres’ CMR. Cable news advertising took the biggest hit—it was off 96% on March 20 of 2003, and the networks dropped 39%.

Similarly, in the first Gulf War, in 1991, travel, tourism and energy companies stopped advertising completely, and advertisers like Procter & Gamble and Campbell Soup pulled back too because, “because consumers lost interest in shopping and partly because no company wants its proud sponsorship or catchy jingle interspersed with scenes of battle,” according to the Times.  In 1991, NBC parent company General Electric lost $3.5 to $4 billion  in revenues in each of the three nights of its coverage of the war.



The 2003 war lasted about two months. There was no Twitter back then, so brands had scarce opportunity to weigh in and potentially embarrass themselves.

So far, few brands have ventured forth to make a statement on the Ukraine situation. One exception is Team Singularity, a premier Esports club from Denmark, which tweeted its opinion:  "We stand for peace, unity and progress. We stand with Ukraine."

Jameson, the Irish whiskey brand, announced that the Russian invasion of the Ukraine is “cause for concern” because of Jameson’s significant market presence in the region, according to Business Post.

Meanwhile, Insider reports that Google and other major brands like Progressive, Best Buy, Eddie Bauer, Bergdorf Goodman and Allbirds displayed ads on Sputnik News and TASS. CNN reports that Carlsberg, a Coca-Cola bottling company, Mondelez and some others have already suspended operations in Ukraine as airspace has been closed.

An Applebee’s ad also made it into a viral CNN clip. Air raid sirens blasted before CNN shifted to an Applebee’s ad. The juxtaposition caught the attention of journalist Keith Olbermann, who tweeted “Death from the skies…sponsored by @applebees.”

There are very few Ukrainian brands available in the U.S. One is Huru,  which makes backpacks. A Japanesse fan tweeted support for the brand:
"If you're looking for a good backpack check out

who are made in #Ukraine, so you can support local brands ! I own the HA model, and I do not regret the purchase !"

Similarly, there are very few Russian brands available in U.S. stores.

2 comments about "Ad Life During Wartime".
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  1. Leo Kivijarv from PQ Media, February 25, 2022 at 2:52 p.m.

    I think you need to relook at your 1991 data - re: General Electric losing over $3.5 billion for three nights. NBC was making $3-$5 billion for the entire year back then if my memory serves. In analysis I did comparing 9/11 to the Kennedy Assination and Pearl Harbor coverage during the first four days shows that media lost $1.9 billion in 2001, $116 million in 1963 and $21 million in 1941. I suspect the two-day coverage of the Iraq invasion in 1991 was probably closer to $500-$600 million in lost ad revenue. 

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, February 25, 2022 at 3:59 p.m.

    Good catch, Leo. Way back then "broadcasting and Cable" magazinewas publishing annual estimates of TV network Ad revenues. For 1991, its estimate----I think these are net figures---less  agency  commission---for ABC, CBS and NBC, combined---including all dayparts, was $8.3 billion---so, obviously NBC by itself, must have taken in about $2.5 billion.

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