NBC Megyn Kelly controversy shows that even TV isn’t safe for marketers

megyn kelly
Megyn Kelly in an
interview on CBS.


On Sunday,
Megyn Kelly will air an interview
with right-wing
provocateur and conspiracy-monger Alex Jones.

The fury over Kelly’s decision to interview Jones, who has
— among other things — denied that the Newtown, Connecticut
school shooting was real, is just the latest affirmation
that advertising in America is becoming a minefield. 

And, it’s not just the Internet or cable TV that marketers have
to worry about. Instead, marketing executives now have to keep a
closer eye than ever before on the
kind of content their ads might end up next to
 on any
medium, and whether or not that association will offend
consumers, or stir up protesters.

J.P. Morgan Chase
 responded to news of the Jones
interview by asking for its local TV and digital ads to be
removed from NBC and anchor Megyn Kelly’s show until after this
Sunday’s episode. NBC isn’t alone in getting caught up in this
kind of situation. Fox News Channel lost advertisers after Sean
Hannity promoted a conspiracy theory about murdered
Democratic National Committee staffer Seth
Rich on his show last month, as did YouTube, when U.K.
advertisers saw their
ads appearing alongside extremist content on YouTube and Google’s
display ad network.

In some cases, because of programmatic (or automated) ad
buying, the ads wind up next to objectionable content
without marketer’s prior knowledge. And the Kelly-Jones interview
highlights how otherwise seemingly safe network TV content
has marketers worried. 

simpsons angry mob

While more brands haven’t yet come forward to publicly denounce
NBC and pull back from Kelly’s show, media buyers say that
clients that could’ve been on the roster, are choosing to stay

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“We had opportunities to move clients currently in market into
her show and we decided to stay away,” said a media buyer from an
independent media agency who wanted to remain anonymous. “News is
an active, polarizing front in the current culture wars and the
potential backlash from all points on the political spectrum was
too risky for us to recommend.” 

Advertisers, in general, are getting more wary of where their ads
might end up than before. Things are vastly different from
last year, when a lot of them, including Allstate and Warby
Parker, were caught flatfooted when their ads
started appearing on Breitbart without their knowledge. 

“In the past two years, we’ve seen a huge increase in marketers
concerned about the contextual placement of advertising, both on
TV and in digital,” said Ben Kunz, senior vice president of
marketing and content at Mediassociates. “This is driven by the
rising polarization of politics, where large groups of consumers
can instantly become furious over a new scandal.”

However, while brand safety may be more top-of-mind for
advertisers, the implications for media outlets appear mild.
Boycotts end up having practically zero impact bottom lines, as
Digiday reported in the case of YouTube,
with ad spend on the platform remaining stable and most U.S.
advertisers returning by this month. 

bill oreilly donald trump inauguration performers fox news“The O’Reilly Factor”/Fox News

“Brand safety is a constant conversation and will be one for the
foreseeable future, but the individual episodes are transient,”
said Rob Silver, national media lead for SapientRazorfish.
“Yesterday it was Bill O’Reilly, today it is Megyn Kelly and
tomorrow it will be someone or something else.” 

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But if you’re a brand, you probably want to incorporate editorial
context in your media strategy. 

“We’ve gone from a world where advertising campaigns used to
focus on audience targets, planning forecasts, and measurement of
results to where the sensitivity of the editorial context is a
fourth strategic prong,” said Kunz. “I say strategic, because
marketers must weigh the benefit of huge audiences associated
with scandal with the risk their brands may be damaged by