The Cost of Avoiding Right-Leaning Consumers Online

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Today's heated political environment is putting brands in a tough spot. Even if they don't want to get involved, one ad in the wrong publication can lead to a massive boycott and scads of angry posts in social media. Many brands are making efforts to spare their reputation by erring on the side of caution -- which, today, typically means steering clear of right-leaning sites.

While that may be the right path for some brands for which politics are inextricably linked to the essence of the brand, it's not necessarily the best direction for most brands to take. For starters, consumers come in all political flavors and, generally, brands don't cater to that aspect of their behavior anyway. After all, you don't see "Charmin for Democrats," or "New Libertarian Laundry Detergent!" Additionally, let's not forget the independents, whom often fall into both Democratic and Republican buckets. There's little opportunity to gain new customers based on their political leanings, but a lot to be lost by targeting away from them.

Opportunity lost
Targeting away from sites that provide right-of-center content is an opportunity lost. Just as marketers don't target products to consumers based on their voting habits, consumers don't select products based on where they advertise. By overlooking sites frequented by half of all Americans, brands are missing opportunities to reach consumers who may love their products. Money isn't blue or red, it's green -- and all households need certain things. A mom who loves and trusts Colgate is going to buy her Colgate, even if their ad happens to appear on a conservative blog. A dad searching for a new SUV won't turn down a great offer on a Chevy because someone on Twitter told him they advertise on Fox News. Furthermore, by following best practices in data-driven targeting, a brand's ads are most likely to be seen by consumers interested in their products anyway.

The fact is, by reducing their targets, brands are also reducing their opportunities. Furthermore, it's difficult to determine what exactly to exclude.

If they want to reach buyers without sacrificing frequency and reach, advertisers are best served by zeroing in on audience, rather than publisher. Targeting men and women of certain ages, certain income brackets and certain levels of education -- along with behavioral data about where they shop or what content they consume -- should be any brand's focus in digital advertising. Engage customers where they consume content, with offers that entice them. If ads appear on or some other right-leaning site, they will only be seen by the customers brands were targeting anyway.

Yes, it's possible that watchdog groups will call out a brand for advertising on a right-leaning site, but so what? They're the ones politicizing the issue, not the advertiser. Brands have to sell product, and Republicans -- even conservative Republicans -- buy toothpaste and cars, too. It's a competitive world out there; if a brand doesn't jump on an opportunity to reach its next best customer, some other brand will.

The crux is that brands should stay non-partisan, focusing on reaching audiences rather than avoiding sites that might be viewed as controversial. Brand protection is important, and no marketer ever wants his or her product to appear adjacent to offensive or illegal content. Yet, while it's always important to ensure that ads placed programmatically only appear on quality sites, marketing teams need to let data-driven targeting work its magic. Focus on the consumer behaviors that are linked to outcomes more closely than the political bent of a site on which an ad appears. The vast majority of consumer brands represent customers across the political spectrum; make an effort to avoid alienating half your customers in the name of protecting your brand.

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