Twitter Ad Controversy: Does Environment Really Matter?

Here we go again with another column trying to make sense of the advertising “environment” issue.

This time, the occasion is the current rumpus in which advertisers are bailing on Twitter because of concerns over the environment created on the site for their display ads, plus (one assumes) the marketing and promotion they do with their own tweet threads.

According to reports, the fleeing advertisers and their agencies are concerned about moderation and control over tweets that they regard as misinformation.

“Misinformation” is a word that is now used in this context to form a vague classification, as I interpret it, against tweets that make claims in support of extreme points of view that are based on “facts” that are not true.



These points of view are largely restricted to the political realm. Such tweets can advocate or incite violence, insurrection (in the case of the Capitol riot), racism and other subjects.

Advertisers don’t want their ads adjacent to hate speech. They think Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk will throw open the door, in the name of free speech, to the very kinds of tweets the advertisers want to avoid.

In considering this story since it gained steam earlier this month, I have been struck by the same thought that always occurs to me when the subject of advertising “environments” come up.

This thought-question goes something like this: Why is the advertising community so laser-focused on the Twitter environment when they otherwise have no problem with the adjacency of their messages to TV content that in an earlier age was considered odious and anathema?

TV content today is a lot different than the old TV shows in the era referenced above. TV shows are produced with what you might call a “high gloss.” They look better than the shows of old and many take on complicated subjects.

But in so doing, they traffic in sex just shy of pornography and violence that, although simulated, is explosive and blood-splattered. And of course, there is the language, although I will spare readers the usual screed about the f-word here.

In stories about the Twitter situation, the advertising community’s stance on hate speech on the site is that they fear their brands will somehow become associated with that speech.

They fear that some might even see the ads as a sign that the brands themselves are aligned with viewpoints expressed in these tweets -- that somehow the messages and their anger will rub off on the brands and irreparably besmirch them.

If there is evidence to support this fear, then I am open to hearing about it. But the skeptic in me feels this concern is farfetched.

If a linkage between content -- either on TV or social media -- and advertising is capable of casting aspersions on leading brands, then wouldn’t that also occur when brands are advertised in the midst of TV shows about bloody murders, sexual assaults and the like?

Not to pick on Netflix’s “Dahmer” miniseries (pictured above), but when Netflix starts its ad tier and commercials start running in the streamer’s shows, it is doubtful that a brand’s messages squeezed into “Dahmer” will be interpreted as an endorsement of Jeffrey Dahmer or serial killers generally.

As for policing hate speech and misinformation on a social media site like Twitter, this does not seem possible.

Here are some basic facts about Twitter usage. It is estimated that 500 million tweets are sent each day, according to data curated and posted by Omnicore. Total number of monetizable daily active users of Twitter: 217 million, says the data.

Who is going to judge and police this hate speech? A roomful of 100 moderators? A thousand? Ten thousand?

Or will this responsibility be pawned off on artificial intelligence, which will cast a wide net that will catch tweets by the boatload that are not hate speech or misinformation at all. In the process, it will likely miss some hate speech too.

Let the record show that the TV Blog has addressed this issue of advertising environments as they relate to violent and antisocial TV content at least four times since 2017. My question remains the same: Does the environment for an ad really matter on TV or social media?

4 comments about "Twitter Ad Controversy: Does Environment Really Matter?".
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  1. Marion Murphy from MZM Productions, Inc., November 16, 2022 at 3:09 p.m.

    It's not quite true, "alternative facts" aside, that brands do not care about environment with other media - in particular televsion.  We generally have a "hit list" we provide to networks to insure we do not air during or adjacent to specific shows. 

    Years ago, A&E lost all advertising dollars from a major auto company, because they aired their ads during "Nip/Tuck".  The spot was bought as DRTV, but this was on the hit list.  Being it was DRTV we monitored clearances daily.  The following day, the rep was informed, we were promised it would never happen again, the client received credit for the spot and a letter of apology.  Don't you know, it happened the following week.  Not only did the client lose the DRTV buy, they also lost the Brand buy. 

    This concern regarding environment continues with many brands.  However, the issue with Twitter, and all social media, is lies and the incitement of violence.  It is difficult to avoid that on news programs and news networks.  I would not be surprised to hear they will lose advertisers as we get closer to 2024, under the current circumstances.  

  2. Ben Benya from benyaconsulting, November 16, 2022 at 3:26 p.m.

     "that somehow the messages and their anger will rub off on the brands and irreparably besmirch them.

    If there is evidence to support this fear, then I am open to hearing about it"

    There is a clear message from consumers in the modern era and it is that they understand that advertising supports the content. You ask for linkage, this is the link. Consumers(from all points of view) are demanding that Brands remove themselves from environments that do not control the flow of distasteful and distructive messages. Your POV seems to be that it is difficult to control this messaging. First, that is not the consumers problem it is the media's problem. Secondly, the environment of Twitter is not a a benign space in which there is suddenly advertiser pressure. The new owner is dismantling "guard rails" that were having a positive affect in controlling the noise. Consumer boycotts are a real and effective tool in today's environment. Brands have heard the customers and are correct to show concern.

  3. Ben B from Retired replied, November 16, 2022 at 10:01 p.m.

    Boycotts don't work in this day and age, in my opinion, it is only a few do boycotts and the brands are boycott-proof as well since the owner owns so many brands it's hard to keep up with.

  4. Ben B from Retired, November 16, 2022 at 10:15 p.m.

    Brands don't care where their ads are shown in my opinion every so often they will drop from a TV show hardly ever happens anymore those that make a stink about The PTC & 1 Million Moms no one listens to them plus they support censorship they want everything to be kid safe and for kids only they don't want adult shows on TV. I believe TV is no worse than what it was 20 or 30 years ago. And I don't see sex being close to porn on TV either I don't care if a TV show has violence or not if it is good I'll watch it.

    I don't get why outside of HBO, or Showtime why some basic cable networks don't embrace porn in the late-night hours scared of the wrath of the censorship orgs that I named. I wouldn't mind if broadcast did it as well they would lose their license if they did it even if they put it on at midnight or later. Porn shouldn't be aired when kids are up just in the late night hours only I know those that don't like porn will be very vocal about it and would say no no matter what.  

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