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Advertising in the Age of Anger and Conflict

Stop. Step away from your television, phone or any device that conveys the news! I warn you, there will be hell to pay.

I had an elucidating conversation the other day with a client, one of the largest Ford dealers on the planet. We talked television news, historically a great place to insert ads as it is viewed live and relatively religiously (i.e. frequently). His posit was, and continues to be, that he doesn’t want his brand to be next to any negativity. 5 years ago I would have pushed back (harder), but today, I’m relooking at my belief set. Does juxtaposition matter? Does what you ride next to speak to who you are as a brand? 

In the era of programmatic ads, where we place ads for who is watching vs. what they are watching, the options are vast. Yes, if the goal is reach (mass eyeballs) in a major metro, it is tough to beat morning or evening news. But increasingly the old saw of ‘if it bleeds it leads’ is apparent. If you want a nice bit of news, catch the last 15 seconds where a dog gets adopted or an old person turns 100. The rest is violence, oppression, conflict and hotly contested opinion. 

How did we get here? Let’s unpack that in a minute. 

First, does it matter that YOUR ad is next to negativity? 

Juxtaposition is a real thing. The saying ‘putting lipstick on a pig’ exists for a reason, as we can window dress anything to make it look better for a while. Put an average looking guy or gal behind the wheel of a $195,000 Mercedes AMG GT R coupe, well….they just look BETTER framed in that environment. The clothes make the man, so to speak (as even an empty suit can get elected President, right?). Not going there, don’t bait me!

But does the ad feel better or worse as a result of the programming?  At the end of the day, the goal of any ad is influence. Did I reach my target? Did the creative strike a tone such that they would take action, if not today, then in the future? Ideally, all of our ads would be next to puppy dogs and rainbows, maybe a chocolate river…but realistically the eyeballs are concentrated in places that are less naturally utopian, less perfect. 

And yet, the key to any decent ad campaign is targeting the right people, with the right message, at the right time. At the end of the day, while I don’t advocate saddling up next to objectionable content, I do know that reach and frequency, with the right message will win the day. So the news is, be on the news. The NFL has ruffled some feathers, but the birds are all still watching. 

In the first of 3 Presidential (tough to call it that) debates last night, what would you have given to be the ONLY commercial in the middle of it all? Is priceless placement worth that journey? For now, this jury votes yes. 

Erik Radle

A voracious reader, un unabashed foodie and struggling golfer, Erik holds multiple degrees from Baylor University where he attended as a National Merit Scholar. His involvement in the community includes support for organizations like Educational Media Enterprises and Park Cities Baptist Church. More info