News of the Impeachment Hasn’t Affected Most Brands’ Suitability Strategies—Yet

Many seem more concerned with blacklisting specific countries for now

small man holding up a much larger man
The impeachment inquiry puts brands in a place where they need to consider politics far before the 2020 election. Getty Images

American news outlets are going to be busy over the next couple of weeks. After receiving a complaint from a whistleblower, the House of Representatives has launched a formal impeachment query into whether President Trump asked the Ukrainian president to investigate the son of potential future political opponent Joe Biden.

Quick history lesson: In terms of U.S. politics, America could be heading into relatively uncharted territory as only two U.S. presidents (Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton) have been impeached before, since Nixon resigned before he could have been impeached.

Given the amount of media attention already devoted to the topic and the amount that will continue as the story continues to develop, digital advertisers face an interesting predicament. Is advertising on content adjacent to impeachment news suitable for their brand?

On one hand, articles about impeachment will create advertising inventory on well-respected news sites like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times for highly engaged readers. On the other hand, advertising on content adjacent to impeachment news could be seen as supporting the news’ outlets lean or might turn off Americans, who are exhausted by politics in general.

But where do advertisers stand? So far the data suggests that advertisers aren’t willing to abandon impeachment news yet.

a chart showing how many marketers have blocked the term "impeachment": 9 between Sept. 1 through 7 and 11 between Sept. 18 and 26.

Advertisers often turn to keyword blocking on top of their usual brand safety protections, building lists to keep them off the content that feels unsuitable for their brands. On average, only a few additional advertisers have begun blocking the term “impeachment” following the query and since the beginning of September. Some advertisers may have previously blocked the term due to implications of the Mueller Report.

With regard to keyword blocking, however, the word “impeachment” is beat by specific countries that are blacklisted.

The maximum number of advertisers blocking either “Russia” or “the Ukraine” is nearly eight times higher than those blocking impeachment. In their eyes, the countries themselves are considered a greater brand suitability risk relative to whether the president stays or goes.

a chart showing how many marketers have blocked terms like "Ukraine" and "Russia" compared to "impeachment" (102, 96 and 13, respectively).

So, what steps should advertisers take now regarding political content and brand suitability, especially as the news becomes increasingly more political the closer we get to November 2020?

Form a strategy

First, advertisers need to confirm and refine their brand suitability strategy in regard to political content. Advertisers should already know what type of content is and is not acceptable for their brand but might need to ask if they are aligned when it comes to political news.

While America can only hope for minimal political scandals between now and November 2020, history suggests that advertisers should be prepared for something to happen. For instance, how does your brand feel about running in digital news content about a major candidate being caught with illegal drugs? Is this suitable for your brand, or should it be avoided? Either way, it is important to proactively develop a brand suitability strategy for political content before it is in full swing by 2020.

Re-evaluate terms to blacklist

Advertisers should also explore expanding out blocking terms to maintain brand suitability standards. Although the impeachment story initially focused on Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president, House Democrats recently subpoenaed Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani as a next step in the process. Depending on how the story grows, “impeachment” might be a brand suitable term but individual people involved in the impeachment inquiry may not be.

Prepare to act

Finally, advertisers need to be ready for action. As with all developing stories, the news can change. It’s possible that the impeachment story fizzles out or comes to a head as new information surfaces. If new information becomes available that pushes news content into unsuitable territory, however, advertisers need to take quick action to protect their brands or risk the consequences of appearing next to unsafe content.

While brand suitability will always be based on individual preferences, the impeachment inquiry is forcing advertisers to think about politics ahead of 2020. As of now, advertisers aren’t willing to deliberately limit their scale on impeachment-related news content just yet. However, this should be seen as a wake-up call that election and political news content is coming, maybe earlier than expected. Is your brand suitability strategy ready for it?

@integralads John Bonanno is a senior analyst at IAS.