Ad buyers are staying away from Trump news

Clients are asking agency buyers to keep their brands away from news about Donald Trump, an unprecedented request considering that, after noon today, he will be the President of the United States.

Typically, advertisers fall into two categories — either they advertise around news and politics, or they don’t, said an executive at a major media buying agency who preferred not to be named. Most of the time, that held true throughout the election: Brands that bought around politics were buying around all kinds of news. “The feeling was that as long as there are still two candidates running for President, there is a sense of speaking to everyone.”

There was, according to buyers a small blip during the Republican National Convention, when Trump became the official nominee, but barring that, brands have been overall very open to advertising around political news.

“Now, we’re seeing a third category,” said a buyer. “We have advertisers in news and politics who are sitting out for inauguration news and for Trump news. Now that there’s just one guy left, you can’t even pretend you’re speaking to everyone.”

Buyers declined to name specific clients, but said that those staying away from all things Trump are those whose consumers skew older and follow news. Some clients are also citing “moral obligations” in staying away from Trump.

It’s a tough line for brands to walk. Trump news poses something of a Catch-22 to advertisers: The incoming President is a character of fascinations who routinely commands large audiences. And as one buyer put it, “everyone has a bum to wipe,” meaning brands selling things like toilet paper would want to capitalize on mass audiences. And yet Trump is so polarizing and divisive that brands prefer to just stay away.

Brands are finding that the inauguration is a potential minefield. Data firm Affinio crunched numbers and found that a wide variety of “interests” are tweeting about boycotting the inauguration — which is exactly the kind of audience brands risk alienating by advertising around it.

Who’s tweeting about the boycott

Brands generally buy two types of ads: Those just to increase the scale of a campaign, where buyers often compromise on what the ad runs next to, and “brand” ads, actually depend heavily on where they run. The rise of the former is largely what explains a plethora of ads on fake news sites or so-called “alt-right” white nationalist sites like Breitbart.

Brand ads that depend on the context in which they run, however, often don’t appear on news sites. Buyers find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place trying to figure out if they need to actually be considered morally responsible for picking publishers.

“As an unbiased agent, we are these partners, it’s up to [the client] to decide whether to have an opinion,” said Oscar Garza, global director of of media activation at Essence. “Political news is always a hot button thing and a fluid situation. Many brands are saying yes to news, but being careful on politics to see how it goes.”

One potential side effect is more pressure from buyers on ad tech that helps them filter out content. Most platforms offer categories like news or weather, but Garza said more people are now asking for more granular filters — such as Trump.

In general, news is a very broad category for buyers, said Garza. Clients will ask to filter out types of news, like “tragedy.” And unless something like a terrorist attack occurs, buyers typically won’t filter out the news category. For politics, while some clients can be more sensitive than others, Garza said the president was rarely considered brand-unsafe — until now.

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