Erik Requidan, vice president of sales and programmatic at Intermarkets, a company that represents a variety of sites, including the influential Drudge Report, reflects on how brands are often too quick to blacklist certain points-of-view especially in the current political climate.
The advertising industry is struggling to become more accepting and more inclusive. Like so many industries, we’re unbalanced when it comes to representing women and minorities in the C-suite. We’re trying to do better: we’re owning our poor treatment of women; we’re trying to hire and pay more equally.
This is all occurring against the backdrop of national movements, corporate boycotts and activism on all sides. Companies are grabbling with when – and when not to – get involved. Sometimes, they’re not really given a choice. Sometimes, they pay dearly for the choices they make.
I have two points to make, and I’ll keep them as generic as possible, given the climate these days. I’m taking a risk, but I think these things need to be said.
First: Stay neutral. RBS' chief marketing officer David Wheldon may have said it best, 'you can stay responsible and neutral at the same time.' Unless you’re a company whose mission is tied to a political or hot topic, steer clear of the debate. Major consumer brands have no business getting political. Nobody expects you to, and frankly, it’s just bad business. Why choose sides when it’s likely that half your audience will disagree? Companies have faced boycotts over seemingly benign political statements. Wouldn’t it be smarter to just keep your opinion to yourself and not risk harm to your bottom line?
We’re taught from an early age that, at work and at events, talking religion and politics is taboo. That should be especially true for brand marketers. Really, no one cares how their favorite soft drink brand feels about the Special Counsel. No one cares how their car company feels about environmental legislation. Just keep your opinions to yourselves.
Second: It’s odd how this inclusion extends to all opinions and all kinds of people – except those who are even mildly conservative. People who are right-leaning are actually afraid to voice their opinions these days. In an environment in which we’re so focused on hearing diverse viewpoints, why isn’t the conservative voice welcome?
This ostracizing of the right seems especially true in creative industries, including advertising, media, marketing and technology. As an actor friend of mine once pointed out: “I missed the memo that said that only liberals were welcome in this industry.” The hard truth is, if we’re going to work together, live in harmony and even, possibly, affect change, we need to listen to each other – even the voices from the conservative side of the room.
This isn’t just true of people – it’s also true of media. Advertisers are quick to target away from publications they suspect their audience may not like. Ads have been pulled from right-leaning sites – and even from spaces adjacent to content that supports the current president, in an effort to keep their more liberal “mainstream” customers happy. Right now, technology companies are creating tools specifically designed to filter out contentious words. Can you imagine if that had happened just one year ago under a different administration?
But what about more conservative consumers? Don’t they buy toothpaste, cereal and appliances too? Targeting away from sites that appeal to the right is bad for business, and honestly, it’s just kind of silly, too. After all, given how programmatic works, your left-leaning customers will only see your ads on the sites they visit – so unless they’re taking in content from those right-leaning news sources, they’re not likely to even know your ads are running there. And even if they do, why should it matter. Following this logic, the next step would be to target away from right-leaning households altogether. Does that make any sense at all?
This may seem like a difficult and crazy time in American history. But shutting out the voices that make us uncomfortable is no way to move forward. And it’s certainly no way to do business.
It’s hard to not get passionate about certain issues, but can we just try to agree to stay out of politics? Consumers do not “have a Coke and a smile” for political reasons, nor do they take a Tylenol as a means to advance their anti-nuke agenda. Let’s avoid a Constitutional Crisis within our industry. It just makes sense to let our customers be who they are and give them access to our products and services out of respect for their individuality. Let’s allow them to choose what they want from us, rather than deciding for them who gets to buy.