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Advertisers are on high alert in the age of President Trump

NBC's Megyn Kelly in a preview of her interview with the controversial conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones.
NBC's Megyn Kelly in a preview of her interview with the controversial conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones.
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It’s not easy being an advertiser these days.

The highly polarized political climate, combined with the ease with which consumers can launch a social media campaign or boycott against a brand, has advertisers on edge.

This week, Bank of America and Delta Airlines pulled their support from the Public Theater’s controversial staging of “Julius Caesar.” Then JP Morgan Chase said it would temporarily yank its ads from NBC News as a result of Megyn Kelly’s upcoming interview with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

Sapna Maheshwari, an advertising business reporter for the New York Times, joined The Frame to explain how the current political climate has changed things for advertisers:

Essentially, [advertisers] are on high alert. I think we sort of saw this around the time of the election where we were seeing these social media crises boil over, and we saw lots of brands getting caught in the cross-hairs of online mobs. And since then we just haven't really seen it taper off.

Maheshwari says advertisers are more sensitive about the content they align themselves with because of intense social media attention from consumers:

It's definitely more scrutiny and that's heightened by really divided groups of consumers online who are trying to use boycotts and threats of boycotts with advertisers to pressure different kinds of content they may or may not agree with.

Though JP Morgan's recent pulling of ads from NBC News is a departure from the norm, Maheshwari says it's a sign of the political times:

JP Morgan's decision here was really unusual. And I think it's definitely reflective of this post-election environment.  And they're saying it's in line with a new post-election policy of avoiding fake news, and so they don't want to give any financial support to people who spread misinformation. And in their view that's what Alex Jones is.

And while it's an advertiser's prerogative to protect its brand, pulling support for news organizations because of their coverage of a particular person or issue can raise some ethical concerns, according to Maheshwari:

JP Morgan and any advertiser is entitled to support or not support what they want. I think it is unusual to make this decision based on a piece of news. And I think the sort of typical way to look at it is how a newsroom operates: for example, any story I write cannot and will not be influenced by what an advertiser wants or needs, right? And I should never be influenced by those conversations. And I think we take that for granted within the news business.

So there is a little bit of a concern that was raised with this — you know, Will advertisers be having more influence than is desired on maybe what guests are brought on in the future, or how things should be covered?

Still, for the most part, Maheshwari says advertisers don't want to get involved with influencing content production:

Advertisers don't want to make editorial decisions or say that one type of content is offensive or not, because then they have to stick by that. So what was interesting about JP Morgan pulling from NBC News is that they were able to say that this is an anti-fake news policy and they can stick by that going forward. When you kind of cross into the line of, This is in poor taste, or We need to support the president, I think it becomes harder to maintain across all channels.

For the most part, really, advertisers don't want to get involved in making those decisions because at the end of the day they want to get their message seen by lots and lots of people, wherever they are, without being in any sort of controversy.

To hear John Horn's conversation with Sapna Maheshwari, click on the player above.

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