Advertisers pause media spend in wake of Capitol Hill riots

Brand safety concerns abound as the U.S. reels from Wednesday’s chaos.

Credit: Cameron Smith
Credit: Cameron Smith

Advertisers are pausing their media plans in the wake of riots that raged on Wednesday on Capitol Hill.

As of 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, six Omnicom clients had paused all placements running against any news content across digital and linear media, according to a spokesperson from the media division. 

Another large media agency that works with several of the country’s biggest advertisers said that a majority of clients had paused all linear and digital spend against news, as well as all social media spend, for at least the following 24 to 48 hours. 

At Dentsu, a "material number" of clients have paused branding efforts, and the group is advising "hyper-vigilance" around the situation because its still very fluid, according to a source.  

Havas advertisers are assessing their plans and in some instances clients are pausing spend, according to a source. 

Within an hour of the Capitol breach, GroupM updated negative keyword lists and communicated globally with clients. The agency has contingencies in place in case clients need to shift spend, but it’s not clear how many have done so, a source said. 

Publicis Groupe did not confirm if clients have paused spend, but a source said the group typically dissuades them from using extensive keyword exclusion lists or pausing media altogether in response to cultural events.

On Wednesday, riots erupted on Capitol Hill as Congress gathered to certify that President-elect Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election. A mob of Trump supporters protesting the vote turned violent as armed crowds pushed past police and entered the building, where a woman was shot and killed. 

As the riots grew more violent, Trump released a video on Twitter telling the rioters to go home, while simultaneously disputing the election results and claiming voter fraud. “Go home. We love you. You’re very special,” he said. 

The protests began after Trump held a rally Wednesday morning in front of the White House, where he falsely claimed he had won the election. 

Brand safety has become a huge concern for advertisers in recent years, as social media has become a hotbed of polarization and misinformation, especially in chaotic moments.

Social media platforms clamped down on Trump in response to the riots, with Facebook and Twitter temporarily locking his account. 

Twitter first blocked people from replying, liking or retweeting Trump’s video without added context, and later deleted the video.

YouTube and Facebook also removed the video, citing violations of their content policies, and placed restrictions on Trump’s account. 

This isn’t the first instance where advertisers have gotten skittish around advertising next to devastating news coverage. When COVID-19 hit the U.S. in March, and when the country erupted in protest in June over the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, brands quickly paused their ad spend and blocked keywords related to both situations.

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