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Advertising Week 10th Anniversary Official Guide

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164 CATALYST Yet, in today's hyper-partisan environment, the question has become vastly more complicated: How much should advertisers advocate their point of view through their creative or media choices? Jason Harris, President and CEO of the creative agency Mekanism, thinks there is a place for advertisers in national conversations. "I do think advertisers have a role in leading and promoting the things they believe in to their audience—that is just corporate responsibility. It's about connecting with their audience in a way that lets their audience know they stand for more than just profit." Jason King, Vice President of Corporate Communications for Clear Channel Outdoor Americas, agrees. "As a media company, we have the ability to communi- cate messages in an effective way to a mass audience, and we take that respon- sibility to heart. We believe in activating our media in ways that can positively affect the communities in which we operate our business." The fact is that these days, brands have to go beyond messaging. As Harris explains, they're at an inflection point, with 300 million people installing ad blockers on their computers. Brands have to find ways to connect on a deeper level. And they can do this by "showing their audience they have similar beliefs, if they really have those beliefs," he says. Pushing social consciousness has its limits While brands should promote the causes they believe in, Harris says they should steer clear of being too political. "You can do it in a way that isn't, 'Let's make sure we stand by the Paris Agreement,' which is overty political, [but rather], 'Let's support climate change by making our company greener and causing less damage to the planet.'" Clear Channel's policy about its pro bono work stays within that safer lane. "There are advocacy and social issues out there that when placed in the public domain could certainly catch the eye of a passerby who may not agree with that position," says King. "That's why we're very careful where we lend pro bono support." So, for example, they've green-lit public service campaigns to end human traffick- ing, but not campaigns about gun control. There are times when Clear Channel will decline an ad, even if it means saying no to revenue. "Just because an advertiser comes to us with an ad doesn't necessar- ily mean we'll accept it," King says. "If an organization is attacking another organiza- tion or a person for their point of view, we don't accept those [ads]." Likewise, Clear Channel must consider local community standards about what is considered "acceptable advertising," he says. Placing a critical eye on copy and creative has long been an internal best practice, but the company "has gotten more rigorous" about it of late, King says. Ad placements can make statements Of course, advertisers can also convey where they stand on an issue through the content their ads support—or refuse to support. Sleeping Giants, an anonymous group that says it's "trying to stop racist and sexist media by stopping its ad dollars" has been keeping a tally of the number of advertisers that have dropped Breitbart. The list now exceeds 2,300. (However, some brands are unintentionally still appearing on the far-right news network via pro- grammatic buys.) An advertising boycott ultimately doomed "The O'Reilly Factor" after sexual harassment allegations against Bill O'Reilly surfaced. His Fox News colleague Sean Hannity's show appears to have suffered less dam- age after a number of advertisers withdrew over the host's pursuit of a discredited conspiracy about the death of a Democratic National Committee staffer. However, removing ads from polarizing content can backfire, as USAA discovered. Many of its members disagreed with its decision to pull commercials off "Hannity" and other shows on CNN and MSNBC that the financial services firm called "opinion- based television news programs." Others disagreed with its decision to reinstate its ads. USAA pledged to review how to apply its advertising policy in a media environ- ment in which "the lines between news and commentary are increasingly blurred," according to a statement, which noted that USAA believes in free speech. Clearly, getting embroiled in the fray of the day through creative or ad buys can be risky. Still, Harris says advertisers should ultimately do what they think is right for their brand. "Be true to your beliefs and the audience will follow," he says. "[Brands] have a right to talk to the audience in the manner they want and not to be afraid of showing what they believe in." • The advertising commu- nity has a long history of using its vast resources to create messages for good. During World War II, the Ad Council ran ads warn- ing that loose lips sink ships. More recently, it has launched campaigns that tackle racial discrimi- nation or cyber bullying.

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