‘It’s a very volatile situation’: Advertisers pause paid social advertising amid D.C. chaos

capitol building

Advertisers are pressing pause on paid social advertising and reevaluating their overall ad spends amid the chaos in Washington, D.C. after a pro-President Trump mob broke into the Capitol building Wednesday.

Media buyers say advertisers paused their paid social ad spend as D.C.’s 12-hour curfew went into effect Wednesday evening and are considering other channels, particularly news content on digital and linear channels.

Some buyers say they are advising clients to press pause for the next 24-hours as they evaluate when to return. Four clients at one of the holding company media divisions pressed pause on advertising as of 5 p.m. on Wednesday evening with one client pressing pause until the weekend, according to buyers.

“This one feels different,” said Davis Jones, managing director of independent agency The Many’s media group, adding that there are “a lot of questions” and that brands have already “flexed the muscle before in terms of pausing” advertising.

Jones continued: “Our perspective is that it’s a very volatile situation. We talk so much about people’s mindsets when they are receiving [advertising] messages. This has taken over the conversation so we’re recommending clients pause for at least 24 hours to see how this unfolds. It feels like there’s very little risk in doing that.”

Over the last year, advertisers have worked more closely with media agencies to quickly press pause on paid advertising across various channels. The experience of doing so — first with the coronavirus crisis and then the social unrest this past summer — has marketers and agencies more prepared to do so quickly, according to buyers, who say flexibility as well as continuing to monitor the situation will be important. 

The overall impact of some advertisers pressing pause due to the chaos in the nation’s capital is still unclear. “The impact depends on the duration [of the unrest],” said one agency exec, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “If the unrest spreads … it could go on for several days. Overall, that would still just mean budget getting reallocated so the overall impact would be negligible.”

“Often during times of crisis, we’ve seen advertisers pause their ads out of fear that they may end up on violent or terrorist content,” said Nandini Jammi, co-founder of Check My Ads and Sleeping Giants. “But what we’re witnessing today is the culmination of years of ad-funded disinformation and extremists, funded unknowingly by those same budgets.” 

Jammi believes advertisers should move dollars toward reputable local and national news channels rather than pausing as “pausing their ads will make no difference now. Instead, advertisers (or agencies) should be targeting reputable local and national news organizations. This is what everyone’s paying attention to right now, and it makes sense to be showing up there.” 

Beyond the breach of the Capitol building, the overall political climate could continue to prove difficult for advertisers.

“The next two weeks will probably be bumpy as the new administration is sworn in,” said Jones. “Brands need to be very vigilant about that. It’ll be stop and go, case by case, very close monitoring. It’s not something that’s going to go away in the near term. There’s a lot of energy in all things political and that’s affecting brands. The main thing is pausing and reevaluating.”


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