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Protecting a Brand in Controversial Media: New Nuances

Posted by:

J Paluszek


What’s a company to do when it’s ads are appearing in controversial media, especially a highly-rated television program? 

Looks as if such decisions are getting much more complicated. And social media messaging is part of a telling kerfuffle this week.

Just a few months ago, Breitbart News was the medium in question and many company brands made relatively quick decisions to withdraw ads because of its perceived  “ultra “alt-right” programming.

But this week, Fox News star Sean Hannity’s defense (later moderated) of Roy Moore, GOP Alabama candidate for the U.S. Senate, generated an advertiser/viewer/consumer scuffle that must have driven corporate reputation management officers to distraction. 

Precis: Some twenty five brands either pulled ads from the Hannity program or announced that they would no longer appear there. A backlash from Hannity fans (many publicly destroyed their Keurig coffee makers) made some of the companies blink. A few deleted their tweets announcing their ad withdrawal; others issued “clarifying” statements on their websites — in effect, going dark on the matter

In its coverage of the companies backing off, “Advertisers Delete Tweets Around Calls to Boycott Sean Hannity”  The New York Times provided this savvy advice from Kara Alaimo, assistant professor of public relations at Hofstra University:

“It’s pretty unusual to see companies like this handling an issue so poorly… What all these companies have to do right now is publicly articulate what their policies are with respect to advertising, and under what circumstances they would pull their ads from broadcasters.”

 The “Hannity-Keurig” display of brand protection reflects the growing corporate sensitivity to the old adage, “You are known by the company you keep”.

In recent weeks the explosion of sexual harassment scandals, with employers quickly separating from the accused, is an even more telling example of how quickly advertisers and companies in general can now adjust to  threats to their brand values..

In these situations, “What’s the right thing to do?” for the spectrum of company stakeholders is more complicated than ever.