“The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true” – James Branch Cabel
Despite these times, I have always leaned to a more optimistic perspective. Needless to say but the last 7 months have been trying for our world. The global fight against terror, radicalization, cultural heartache, racial divide, a bludgeoned election process and macro-economic challenges have created fear and uncertainty.
All this in tow, the meaning and reality of our business has been top of mind. This business being digital advertising specifically. It is small in the scheme of things but many times more influential than most industries. We know there can be a depravity to what we do if done poorly and for naught. That being said, in current times it seems harder to separate the grey area in digital. When tragedy hits as it inevitably will, should we keep our campaigns live? If so, do we need to adjust messaging? How long should we be dark? What is the risk of maintaining these few channels, while pausing others? Will we lose revenue? All seemingly insensitive questions but real ones we need to address for each and every brand.
As creatives, strategists, engineers and media buyers; I believe it is our duty to bend the path through the trees. Not for ourselves but for the better of our industry, the respect of the people and the perception of partners. A misstep in ad presence could be catastrophic for many brands, and I believe it is up to us to set the ethical boundaries and the rhythm of the space.
Considerations in time of tragedy or global crisis:
- Turn it off – One of the key benefits of digital is the flexibility of most media buying. Even our largest channels have the ability to be placed in an interim “paused” state within minutes. Understand these terms and off/on technicalities, whether that be in programmatic display, direct buys, Facebook or paid search.
- Setup a monitoring process – This should be an essential step for everyone on the team. Use Google alerts. Read global news every morning (BBC, Al Jazeera, NYTimes). Invest in a seat with brand monitoring platforms like Brandwatch, Sysomos, Crimson Hexagon. Use their tech to build agency or brand dashboards that focus on ‘new’ vs. the brand.
- Discuss and agree on protocol – This is an important conversation with and as a brand. Which brand stakeholder owns the off/on decision? Who will handle the actual execution of the on/off? What do the parties need to look for? What is internal communication format that is most helpful to educate stakeholders on the timing and potential impact?
- Disruptive channels first – There are some channels that create more market friction than others, such as social advertising and banner display (non-native). The safest bet is to pause. These channels take less than 30 minutes to fully pause out depending on size and partner breadth.
- Content/Explicit Suppression – Ensure that all partners have included you in their explicit or questionable content filter. It might also be beneficial to consider an ad verification partner as well, or better yet, have your display vendor to pay for such integration.
- Again, maybe just turn it off.
Fortunately, we are able to work with brand colleagues that understand and encourage the ad-quiet. The protocol has been agreed upon and the “lights out” philosophy allows us to move swiftly and without question. Consumers need a direction. Brands need risk management. All people need space, especially from us at times.