In the age of social media and the 24/7 news cycle, brand safety is on the mind of every business. As the media world gathers for the 2017 Upfronts and NewFronts, ad buyers are taking special care not to land their clients in the middle of a public relations crisis during the coming year. Because when advertisers unwittingly underwrite hate, harassment, or bigotry, consumers react -- fast.
In April alone, customers called out almost 100 companies -- from AT&T to Mercedes-Benz to Xfinity -- that advertised alongside inappropriate or vitriolic material. After reports of ads appearing next to jihadist and neo-Nazi content, 5 percent of YouTube's top clients in North America pulled their spending. At the same time, more than 80 businesses publicly stopped advertising on Bill O'Reilly's show on Fox News after a New York Times investigation exposed his central role inside the network's workplace culture of sexual harassment and racial discrimination. Consumers immediately recognized what Fox did not: Serial harassment isn't only wrong, it's bad for business.
In this day and age, businesses that get caught compensating, enabling, or incentivizing bad actors -- even briefly -- put their reputations on the line. That's why YouTube has urgently committed to improving its ad placement algorithm. But while Fox may have fired Bill O'Reilly and some members of the old guard who enabled people like him, its new primetime lineup -- featuring the likes of Sean Hannity, Eric Bolling, and darling of the "alt-right" Tucker Carlson -- is just as risky for brands. These right-wing personas are known for the same "culture war" racism and misogyny that made O'Reilly toxic, and, to be sure, the network's long-standing problems with harassment and intimidation are nowhere near fixed.
In 2017, advertising is a zero-tolerance game, and not every network should deliver your message. Why take the risk?
Don't let your business become an innocent bystander in Fox's next crisis. Plan ahead and know what you're sponsoring. Stay in the know by checking out the latest research from Media Matters and signing up for our weekly email updates.