The Media World in 2022’s First Quarter
116 & West
The first quarter of 2022 taught us that even though the world is “getting back to normal” in some sense, there will still always be surprises. We definitely didn’t have war in Europe on our 2022 bingo card. Despite being thousands of miles away, the whole world is feeling it–advertisers included. This is one of the first times, outside of COVID, where people and companies have the power to share their story and show their support in real time.
Here’s what we felt stood out most in media in Q1, what we’ll likely bring into Q2, and emerging tactics.
Media Trends and Challenges
Applebee’s, CNN, and the Invasion of Ukraine
From COVID to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there are a lot of sensitive subjects being discussed across all mediums. This presents an issue in the media realm because some advertisers/advertisements are being placed next to content they don’t support, or feel wary of, due to the sensitive nature.
Ad Age recently shared an example of this taking place on CNN. The newscast was showing live footage of Kyiv, Ukraine. There was a dark, terrifying scene punctuated by air raid sirens. Suddenly, that was pushed to one side as a cheerful Applebee’s commercial came into the frame, with Zac Brown Band’s upbeat “Chicken Fried” playing in the background.
The quick cut felt like the invasion was being taken far too lightly. Applebee’s and social media personalities quickly responded with comments expressing their disappointment. Applebee’s paused all advertisements on the network, and CNN has since stopped all picture-in-picture advertisements.
This specific issue will likely persist as long as intense, emotional news stories are running. Display ads will continue to run on sites alongside content that is sensitive. Social media ads may run before or after posts about the world’s various crises.
But, as advertisers, what can we do to prevent this? Cross our fingers that our clients’ content isn’t unintentionally insensitive? That’s simply not enough.
A step to avoid this includes being more mindful of what programs ads are placed in, and what sites are excluded from digital buys. Unfortunately, only so much can be done to mitigate this issue as long as the troubles of the world persist.
Political Ads and Inventory Issues
In a year with political races, political advertisements have already begun to flood our feeds, airwaves, and signals. Because political campaigns often have such high media spends, buyers end up running into inventory issues.
This is only an issue where there is a limited amount of inventory. For example, TV, radio, OOH, and streaming services all have a set amount of spots/units/impressions available. Once they’re sold, there is no more inventory–no matter how strong your relationships with media partners are. If a last minute schedule is needed, advertisers may not be able to get into desired programming at a reasonable rate.
While digital doesn’t tend to have the same inventory constraints, political races do bring in new restrictions specific to digital buying. Vendors are already calling out political windows, meaning that rates will likely be higher than normal.
This makes budgets feel smaller and doesn’t allow them to stretch as far as they normally would. With campaigns that aren’t time sensitive, we can avoid these hot, political time periods. Unfortunately, other campaign dates aren’t as flexible, ultimately strong-arming buyers into paying more for less inventory.
Since updates and stories can be shared in real time–and from such diverse perspectives– the invasion of Ukraine stands out as the most covered war in history. We’re currently watching as major brands stand their ground, imposing their power to be used as tactical warfare “weapons.”
For example, Google shared in late February that they “banned RT, Sputnik and other Russian state-sponsored media from YouTube in Europe. It also said it would no longer permit content from Russian state media from appearing on Google News.” A few days later, Google stated that they will be pausing all ads in the country including search, YouTube, and display.
Similarly, Insider reported that “Facebook took another swipe at Russia amid its invasion of Ukraine by pulling all of the advertising from the country and refusing to run ads anywhere in the world from Russian marketers.”
Facebook elaborated, saying, “Due to the difficulties of operating in Russia at this time, ads targeting people in Russia will be paused, and advertisers within Russia will no longer be able to create or run ads anywhere in the world, including within Russia.”
Brands, such as media conglomerates Google and Facebook, showing their support of Ukraine (and, ultimately, turning their backs on Russia) are ever changing. The overall impact will be a sad yet informative case study for years to come, and will serve as a predecessor for many other digital age events.
Planning/Buying Media Early
As the invasion of Ukraine rages on, we should continue to expect coverage on all mediums. This should push advertisers to be more conscious of where they are buying. This, coupled with other crises and political campaigns, results in an even further limited inventory. Media buyers will likely be more restricted than normal.
If possible, advertisers should do their best to plan early by placing annual buys. As elections continue, planning and buying earlier will help cement desired programming, spot count, and amount of impressions. This will also help lock in placements at competitive rates before the bump rate and preempts come through. (Bump rates are what you must pay to “bump” someone else out of a spot. Preempted spots are the spots that do get bumped out by someone else, which ultimately results in placements being “made good” at a later date.)
Though paid social doesn’t have the same inventory limits as traditional mediums, Meta’s Facebook and Instagram do have restrictions when it comes to political advertising. There is a long process media buyers must undergo to get ads approved for anything that may fall under their categories of social issues, elections, or politics.
Meta provided a statement to elaborate on what types of posts fall under these categories:
“Ads made by, on behalf of, or about a candidate for public office, a political figure, a political party or advocates for the outcome of an election to public office. Or, about any election, referendum, or ballot initiative, including ‘go out and vote’ election campaigns. Ads regulated as political advertising. About social issues in any place where the ad is being placed.
Social issues are sensitive topics that are heavily debated, may influence the outcome of an election or result in/relate to existing or proposed legislation. Ads about social issues seek to influence public opinion through discussion, debate or advocacy for or against important topics, like health and civil and social rights.”
Buyers that place these ads must go through the ad authorization process. This process includes confirming their identity, and providing information about the organization so “Paid for by” disclaimers can be added. Additionally, their ads will be entered into the Ad Library and have approval to run for seven years without the need to resubmit through the authorization process. Without the authorization and disclaimer, these ads won’t run.
This becomes an issue for advertisers due to timing. It makes it much more difficult to get campaigns up quickly. If a politicial campaign wants to run ads in response to other candidates’ advertising or current events, it may take longer than they want to execute. For example, to confirm an identity, Meta sends a coded letter in the mail. An ad buyer can’t move forward without that code.
Disney, part owner of Hulu, released a self-service advertising platform to small- and medium-sized agencies in 2022’s first quarter. In 2020, the company released a self-service Hulu Ad Manager platform to small businesses. The intent was to make advertising on Hulu accessible to businesses with smaller budgets.
However, this recent release adds agencies into the mix. Hulu will give 25 select agencies access to test the platform this spring. With this program, agencies will be able to access insights to increase future capabilities.
This is a big step for Hulu, and a huge step for small advertisers. Normally, the campaign minimum spend is $30,000, which is unattainable for many companies. With the self-service platform, the minimum spend is greatly reduced to only $500!
Rolling into 2022’s Q2
In Q2 of 2022, advertisers should look to vary their media tactics. Reallocating placements from traditional to digital will be beneficial for smaller budgets, and gives more control over what’s being bought.
Using what happened to Applebees as evidence, we’re absolutely still living in unprecedented times. In the past, this was less of an issue because purchasing broadcast TV, for example, allows us to buy specific programming and avoid news leans or personalities that don’t align with the brand we are representing. Other times, however, we can’t be sure what will be covered next and how it might reflect on the brand. This is also something to consider as we creep into the political window of 2022. Buying TV will become much more competitive.
For small advertisers, this can present an issue as they are easily edged out by bigger brands with deeper pockets. Products like the Hulu self-serve platform could be a solution for many of these advertisers. It will help to break down the cost barrier of entry, will allow for more closely targeting content, and monitoring in real time to make nimble adjustments.