‘Clients are being cautious’: Roe vs. Wade overturn has advertisers evaluating ads, pausing spending

The lead image shows an illustration of three people stacking blocks that have ones and zeros on them.

Some marketers are already beginning to pull back on advertising and are reevaluating their paid and organic content for social channels this week after the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade was released, leaving reproductive rights in the hands of state legislatures — some of which have already banned abortions.

At the same time, some marketers and agency execs have also been reconsidering their blocklists, adding phrases related to the Supreme Court as well as justices’ names to their lists now to compensate for potential brand safety issues.

Marketers have had to retool their media buying and planning strategies quickly as of late, as major news events over the last two-and-a-half years have included the pandemic, the January 6th insurrection and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. That advertisers would do so following Roe vs. Wade’s overturn isn’t surprising; marketers and agency execs said they prepared their respective strategies after a draft version of the decision was provided to Politico earlier this spring. 

Some agency execs say that the clients who paused advertising following the release of the Supreme Court’s decision have already resumed advertising. One holding company source explained that a high volume of clients paused both organic and paid media following the decision, however now most have fully or almost fully turned those posts back on. Others say that they are still advising clients to pause media activity.

Carrie Dino, Mekanism’s head of media, advised clients to pause advertising while the agency used search trends and “social listening tools” to track the conversation and overall sentiment through the weekend, she said in an email. The agency is still advising clients to pause organic social activity that “does not expressly address the issue” and that they are “evaluating paid advertising on a case-by-case basis.”

“We have been working with them to review any paid or organic content that is going out on their social media channels, updating our block lists and keyword lists, and sending out a survey to understand their corporate position, evaluate any messaging that is being shared publicly directly from the company or from any key employees,” Dino continued.

When it comes to organic social content, “clients are being cautious,” noted Tim Lathrop, executive director of platform media at media agency Mediassociates, adding that caution and working to “be more sensitive” has become ingrained in clients following major news events like the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

That’s not to say that all advertisers or clients are pressing pause or pulling back. 

“To date, we have only one client that has pulled back,” wrote Robin Cohen, evp of integrated media investment and planning at Rain the Growth Agency in an email. “Other clients on our roster have not made any changes to their schedules at this time or opted out of Roe news in particular just yet.”

That reconsideration could be of particular interest on streaming, where excluding news is common. Cohen said she would “not be surprised to have future conversations with clients on this highly charged topic.”

Others say they are telling clients not to add to their blocklists now as “this issue will be part of the public debate everywhere for the foreseeable future,” explained Joshua Lowcock, global digital and brand safety officer at UM. “It’s not smart or sensible to add these words to blocklists — it’s a disservice to society and to ensuring that there’s quality coverage of women’s rights and reproductive health.” 

The question of data privacy, already on the minds of marketers as they consider how consumers view the issue, will likely be a bigger focus for advertisers going forward given the ripple effects of the use of that data when it comes to abortion care and its legal status in a given state. For example, Lowock said location data — and who that information could be provided to — is on his mind as he has sought to clarify since the opinion leaked in May who has access to data from media and ad tech companies.

“This work is ongoing and responses have been mixed,” Lowock said. “Some publishers have been proactive and see the inherent risks, while others have been dismissive of our questions and concerns.”

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