Don’t Become a Victim of the “Other” Trade War

No, it’s not China. It’s the same old battle where a media personality steps on a land mine and anyone running ad placements in their program(s) finds themselves under sudden attack.

This week’s subject is none other than Laura Ingraham. After she displayed a graphic featuring eight people censored on public media—including Outspoken-actor James Woods, Conspiracy-peddling Alex Jones, and Space-wasting Racist Paul Nehlen—she didn’t help herself with the graphic reading, “prominent voices censored on social media.”

Ingraham, the former Supreme Court Clerk and Reagan Speechwriter craftily responded to CNN via Twitter: “Retweeting screenshots of despicable old tweets by racists and/or anti-semites must make those racists & anti-semites very happy. Unfortunately, it does zero to elevate the debate in America. cc. @CNN

The Washington Post was proud to announce that, “At Least One Advertiser is pulling out.

I’ve written at length on this topic, but let me summarize: Professional organizations representing special interests have made a business out of monitoring conservative media channels for golden moments such as these. They catch a conservative saying or doing something stupid—either intentionally or unintentionally—and then begin an assault on any brand who can be found advertising in that program. Their goal is to make brand executives feel uncomfortable and create a perception that if you run in their program then you must be a bigot, just like the show’s host. One unfortunate by-product of our information age is that when there is no real news to report, outlets can now run media about other media and call it a story—creating a self-perpetuating news cycle. And, sell more ads. Then when some unsuspecting marketer falls for the schoolyard tattletale routine and pulls out of the program in question, these antagonizing forces can chalk up another win. Yay democracy!

Left-leaning news outlets should take care, lest the right construct parallel machinery and turn conservatives loose on them. This would invite a trade war impacting both sides in a repugnant race to the bottom—hacking away at each other’s ad dollars—changing nothing and numbing consumers so that their trust in media continues to decline. And now I’ve thrown up in my mouth and it burns.

To be clear, Laura Ingraham is one of the few national broadcasters I’ve never met. I don’t watch Laura Ingraham. I don’t listen to Laura Ingraham. And as far as I can tell, none of Oxford Road’s clients are buying any of her media specifically via podcast, radio or television. It’s not intentional. If we obtain data suggesting the ROI would be positive on any of her channels for any one of our clients, I would have no qualms about recommending her program. If we are helping you scale your business, we need to reach people across the political spectrum. Quick aside: Many times, the sponsors receiving blowback aren’t even buying these shows intentionally, but rather purchasing run-of-schedule campaigns that just happen to land within the program in question.

More importantly, does Laura Ingraham have hatred in her heart—at least a little more so than anyone else on cable news? Probably not. But I really don’t know that either. What I don’t like is that we are playing a big game of “if, then” about something that in all likelihood was a screw up by some low-level production coordinator who didn’t properly vet the graphic before the daily news program went live. There’s a good chance it cost this individual their job. Long live 24-hour news cycles.

The important thing to consider as an advertiser is that this is a frequent game of “gotcha” played by special interest groups and news channels all seeking to benefit themselves. Advertisers become a pawn in this game and get caught in the cross-fire. Too often they take the bait and are worse off because they end up getting attacked by both sides, now being seen as a Turncoat as well.

If/when you find yourself in this position—regardless of emails, tweets, etc. you receive with an accusatory tone suggesting you believe in something which you do not simply because of where your ad impressions might have fallen—the best thing you can do is say…nothing. If the heat persists after a week you can suspend placement in that show for a time, but don’t make any public announcements. It probably won’t outlast a full news cycle. If you go that route and suspend the show from rotation, it’s best to set a time limit on how long you avoid the program lest you find yourself unwelcome to re-enter. Based on the trend over the last 12 months, you will soon find yourself back on the conservative channel, but forced into buying only their lowest rated shows at a premium. You will have given yourself an inability to purchase run-of-schedule media buys, as show-specific placements cost more than rotators. Yet as any performance marketer of scale knows, you’re going to want to reach conservative audiences.

Pro-tip: If you get negative feedback from someone that you can validate as a customer, take this seriously. You could even have a prepared response for them showing that their viewpoint does matter. But that doesn’t mean you should only advertise on the complaining party’s favorite networks. You should hear them out and be ready to listen to their concerns, but don’t let them dictate your media schedule.

The underlying issue here is that our nation is bitterly divided, and digging in on one side or another does not elevate your brand nor does it add value to our national discourse. But what if you are like the people complaining and really really don’t like the show you were buying anyway? Well, then you definitely need to be there! Death to echo-chambers and death to limiting your revenue streams. If you really want to influence the public with your values, isolation will not help you. Let your values shine through your products and use that to build relationships on both sides of the aisle. We will do much better as marketers and as a nation when we can say, “I disagree with what you say, but I will sponsor your right to say it.”

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