On Sunday, a lone message of a bright Israeli flag stuck out among the digital billboard overload in New York’s Times Square. The billboard of the flag, with the familiar blue horizontal stripes and Star of David, had no words—but the message was clear support for Israel from American Eagle, the clothing retailer, which is running the signage at its flagship.
It was just one of the few ways that brands, advertisers, agencies and ad tech companies have been spreading messages of support for Israel after the terrorist attack against the country over the weekend.
Craig Brommers, American Eagle’s chief marketing officer, posted a photo of American Eagle’s Israeli flag billboard on LinkedIn, and received messages of sympathy from many people in the ad industry. “We just told our daughters (already big fans of American Eagle and Aerie) that they can buy whatever they want from your brands,” wrote Seth Klugherz, VP of marketing at Haribo. “Very impressive.”
The ad community is responding to the surprise attack from Hamas on Israel over the weekend and the continuing violence in the region, which has resulted in more than 900 deaths in Israel. Israel declared war on Hamas on Sunday. A military campaign from Israel Defense Forces is besieging Palestinians trapped in Gaza, killing 900, the Palestinian Ministry of Health announced, according to CNN.
Israel, and especially its tech hub of Tel Aviv, is home to a number of outposts for U.S. ad agencies and tech companies, and has a vibrant marketing technology scene. Anzu, Taboola, Similarweb and Yotpo are just a handful of the companies that engineer advertising products that are based in Israel.
Agencies show support
Several agency holding companies have offices in Tel Aviv and have been affected by the conflict; CEOs have been quick to offer support to staff.
Publicis Groupe Chairman and CEO Arthur Sadoun told the company’s team members in Israel that the “Publicis community is by your side in the face of this attack,” and that the company will “stand with you in grief, pray for the injured and share your anguish for those held hostage,” according to an internal memo obtained by Ad Age.
Giulio Malegori, group chief operating officer of Dentsu and CEO of Dentsu EMEA, encouraged employees to “stand together with a clear focus on the safety of our people” and connect with local human resources partners for support.
Havas has two agencies in Israel, and Havas Chairman and CEO Yannick Bolloré reminded employees that “some of our collaborators will be called to duty” after Israel’s declaration of war and pledged support to those affected.
Omnicom and McCann are offering assistance to staff and families wanting to leave the region and encouraging employees to use the companies’ health service resources.
Stagwell Chairman and CEO Mark Penn announced a webinar on antisemitism in the workplace for employees, hosted at Stagwell’s global headquarters in New York and featuring Matthew Berger of the Kraft Organization’s Foundation to Combat Antisemitism.
Representatives from WPP, Publicis, Dentsu, Havas, Omnicom and Stagwell have confirmed that none of their employees or partners in Israel were physically harmed in the attack as of press time. While no McCann employees were hurt, several have loved ones who were killed or are still missing.
Creative community speaks up
Ben Sever, chief creative officer, CEO and partner of Havas Tel Aviv, said that people in Israel’s ad community were using their talents in media to help show the world the suffering, partly through rapid-response videos. There were videos being shared online, shining a light on the violence that had just ensued. Videos appeared on TikTok, YouTube and Facebook with graphic snapshots of civilians being attacked, houses burned and people being abducted. Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs posted the videos to YouTube, and ran some with paid ads, seen by Ad Age.
“It’s important to get more people involved,” Sever told Ad Age in a LinkedIn message on Tuesday. “Clearly the majority of the Western world believes in democracy and freedom and understands that Israel [is] among the few that actually fights for these values in the Middle East.”
“The Israeli creative community are doing their best to help the world understand all this,” Sever said. “Most of the creative professionals that I know are helping out with, well, creative that helps showcase the Israeli angle,” Sever said.
Pro-Palestine voices should be heard too, according to Ashish Prashar, who was global CMO of ad agency R/GA before departing the firm earlier this year. Most of the comments from advertising execs have been one-sided in support of Israel, Prashar said. It’s a fraught subject, but more people should be aware of the history of the Middle East conflict before picking sides, Prashar said. At the moment, Israel Defense Forces are conducting operations in Gaza that Prashar called “carpet bombing.” “I’m seeing a lot of industry execs ‘stand with Israel,’” Prashar said in a call on Tuesday. “You’re not seeing people at the executive level say, ‘I stand with Palestine.’ You’re seeing it one way.”
“They’ve taken a side and it’s very hard for people who do have sympathy [for Palestine], and understand the wider conflict, there’s no space for us to articulate our voice without being shut down or being called an antisemite,” Prashar said.
On Sunday, in Times Square, right near where American Eagle later posted the Israeli flag billboard, a pro-Palestinian group held a rally, which was organized by the Democratic Socialists of America political party.
Members of the ad world are also struggling to craft the right message for this divided time, according to Harry Kargman, CEO of Kargo, the mobile ad tech firm. “The optics of wading into this, to support Israel, even though it’s had abductions of its citizens to be held as hostages, and they’re ruthlessly being slaughtered,” Kargman said, “the optics of support could create controversy. So, businesses are looking for ways to send support, and there is a large marketing and ad tech community in Israel. But there are concerns about the perception of support, that a certain base of customers would be turned off by it.”