Marketing in the Time of Brexit & Trump: Which Path Should Brands Take?

How does the political landscape impact marketing? Maria Pousa, CMO, Integral Ad Science, explores the fundamentals brands must keep front-of-mind during changing political times and argues that, ultimately, brand values and context shouldn’t really change in the short term.

In periods of turmoil, it can be hard for marketers to find their feet – and to call these times ‘divisive’ would be an understatement. The ad tech industry has weathered gender and diversity concerns, Facebook’s measurement scandal and, more recently, P&G’s call to clean up the media supply chain, but the political landscape is something all industries will be influenced by – both positively and negatively.

Still reeling from three major tremors in the political landscape – Brexit, Trump’s victory in the US presidential election and, most recently, the UK’s decision to hold a snap election – the global social order is in flux, leaving brands unsure which path to take. A few have chosen to openly share their opinion on key issues, while others have decided to lay low.

But which way is best? To find out, let’s explore the approaches brands have taken and considerations in this era of change.

Making a statement

In a bid to stand out amid the confusion, many brands have opted for bold messaging. For example, easyJet reached out to budget travellers after Brexit with its ‘why not’ campaign, which extolled the virtues of European destinations at scale across VOD, cinema, OOH, display, and social – including an experiential aspect that enabled consumers to virtually explore cities within the EU. According to the company’s group commercial director, Peter Duffy, the campaign was intended as “a deliberate feel-good act demonstrating our values and benefits” by conveying that life and travel will go on once the UK leaves the union, and the experience will still be fun.

It’s essential to remember that, while messaging within creative can make a powerful statement, it’s still just as important to take context into account.

Keeping context in sight

The need to protect brand safety by ensuring ads don’t appear beside inappropriate or salacious content is well known. Indeed, many marketers take steps to ensure ads are always seen in the right context by implementing tools that assess content before ads are placed – ensuring the ad will be seen in the right context. But errors do occur; and when ads appear beside the wrong content the results can be severe, as shown by the recent scandal that erupted when Google’s ad service was found to have placed ads for several major brands beside extremist content. In the current political climate, the issue of context is even more complex. News sites are filled with an array of opposing views and they’re attracting large audiences, so should marketers target these sites and risk ads appearing alongside opinions that don’t reflect their brand ethos?

It’s a tricky decision – capitalising on the enhanced reach of news sites may bring greater brand awareness; but it also has the potential to draw attention for the wrong reasons. Consequently, some brands now see avoidance as the best way forward. For example, multiple German brands ­­­(including BMW) have chosen to boycott the right-wing site Breitbart, previously criticised for its controversial content, while the Stop Funding Hate campaign is putting pressure on British brands, such as the Co-op Group, to withdraw advertising spend from The Sun, Daily Mail, and Daily Express due to the publications’ sensationalist and divisive reporting.

But whichever route brands take, they must carefully consider what is right for their reputation, and their audience.

Moving to the consumers’ beat  

If Brexit taught us anything, it’s the need to accurately establish what public opinion is, rather than assuming we know what audiences want. In a recent comment on the vote to leave the EU, Rapp’s senior vice president of strategy, Shiona McDougall, said: “Brexit was a shock to many who operate in the London media bubble echochamber” and should be a “wake-up call […] to ensure we really do understand consumers.”

With individuals now in charge of their own journeys, brands must gain a precise view of audience needs, tastes, and interests – and tailor messaging accordingly.

Technology you can lean on

Some feel programmatic advertising adds yet another element of risk to an already perilous situation; but it can actually provide the solution to reaching the right audiences, while avoiding potential dangers and maintaining brand safety. Programmatic technology can protect brands from unsafe or off-brand placements, and the team that oversees that technology – whether in-house or external – should be confident in its ability to do so.

Marketers should be able to decide what safety looks like for their unique brand, and set specific risk thresholds for individual campaigns, spanning both direct and programmatic buys. Using techniques that vary from basic blacklisting to dynamic scoring to analyse brand risk at page-level, marketers must be able to depend on their technology to block placements in real time – preventing ads appearing alongside questionable content, while still reaching and engaging the right audiences.

The political landscape is certain to change, but things aren’t so very different for marketers. They still need to define what is important to their brand – the values they must uphold and risks that are worth taking – and take a long-term strategic approach, rather than being directed entirely by current events. By relying on the technology available to help marketers navigate these tumultuous times, they can steer clear of potential threats, while still hitting campaign goals and maintaining brand values – whatever the future may throw at them.

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