Major brands mute Twitter, Facebook advertising amid election chaos
The elongated election fight left a void in advertising on social media this week as a number of brands turned down the volume on digital campaigns to steer clear of the chaos.
Brands are nervous about advertising amid raging political discourse on sites like Twitter and Facebook and the climate is unfavorable for enticing sales. As a result, many advertisers lowered ad spending, according to digital marketing experts. And those that tried to step into the political lion’s den, like Gap, were quickly rebuffed.
On Wednesday, with the election still up in the air, Gap tweeted an image of a red and blue “unity” hoodie with the message “together, we can move forward.” The Twitter crowd immediately chastised the marketing effort, and Gap acknowledged it was ill-timed and removed the tweet.
“The Gap example, that’s what brands are really looking to avoid,” says Sadie Miller, VP of social media at Reprise, the agency that is a part of IPG Mediabrands. “Promotional-forward messaging that brands are sending out in the form of ads is just not going to be received by consumers.”
Many brands grasped the difficulty of marketing in this environment, and adjusted accordingly. Pathmatics, a digital advertising intelligence platform, analyzed the spending of major brands on Facebook and Twitter, and found that some of the biggest names in advertising went mostly dark this week.
Target spent about $27,000 a day on average on Twitter over the past three months, but this week its average daily spend on Twitter dropped to about $500, according to Pathmatics. The firm looked at close to 20 brands and compared their average daily spend on Facebook and Twitter in the period August to October with this week.
On Twitter, Walgreens went from $12,000 a day to zero, and Netflix dropped from $6,000 daily to $400. And on Facebook, Kellogg went from $31,000 a day to $4,000, while Hershey pulled back from $21,000 to just $300.
Kellogg, Hershey and other brands were not immediately available for comment on their social strategies this week. Pathmatics could not confirm if the spending drops were blips or election-related. But digital advertising executives say that the election definitely affected ad plans.
“There are brands staying away right now,” says Brian Weiser, global president of business intelligence at GroupM. “You still have uncertainty [around] how this plays out, and more importantly, uncertainty of whether or not there will be unrest. The election is unresolved.”
Last month, when Twitter announced its quarterly financial numbers, executives cautioned that the election would force many marketers to the sidelines. “The period surrounding the U.S. election is somewhat uncertain, but we have no reason to believe that September’s revenue trends can't continue, or even improve, outside of the election-related window,” Twitter said in a note to investors last week.
Weiser says that the social sites will still mostly see steady revenue, because the same amount of spending will occur over the long haul, and different types of advertisers could step in to plug any holes. But the mood for many major brands is unwelcoming for the moment.
There has been anxiety around social media marketing for months, with advertisers worried about how their messages come across during fraught political moments. First there was COVID-19, then civil rights protests, and now the election is dragging on. As of late Thursday, there was no clear presidential victor, and Facebook and Twitter were still very much caught in the political throes.
Facebook and Twitter are both being watched closely for how they handle disinformation and the political jockeying from Republicans and Democrats. Almost every time President Donald Trump tweeted about election matters this week, Twitter slapped his messages with disclaimers about the risk that they carry misinformation.
“The biggest risk a brand has right now is a misstep,” like the one Gap made, says Nicole Greene, senior director and digital media analyst at Gartner. “Getting into the conversation when people are not ready for that conversation right now, while it’s still being contested.”
If marketers are planning to dip their toes in the political waters, they may want to take a cue from Netflix’s Chief Marketing Officer Bozoma Saint John. On Wednesday, with the election frenzy still fresh, Saint John tweeted: “Fuck it. I’m having cupcakes for breakfast.”
It was a statement without being too political, Greene says. “She kind of expressed what most consumers are feeling right now.”
Meanwhile, while it might seem obvious to hold off on major ad efforts, brands are also thinking about the upcoming holiday season. Sales must go on. “Retail season just kicked off,” says Caitlin Wroblewski, marketing director at media agency Initiative. “For a lot of clients, it is the busiest time of the year. So that is going full force.”
Twitter did tell its investors that once the election is wrapped up, brands would come storming back to make up for the time off.
Until then, says Weiser, “there are a lot of marketers who are concerned about whether or not consumers would be receptive to any message at this point in time.”