Navigating uncertainty: What brands can do now

Rachel Falco, Frank Puma / November 2020

GroupM’s Rachel Falco, managing partner and director, and Frank Puma, managing director, share steps brands can take now to be ready for whatever comes next.

Uncertainty has been one of the defining characteristics of 2020 for consumers and businesses alike. With coronavirus cases rising again across much of the world and political uncertainty in the U.S., brands are again asking themselves how to be ready for unforeseen circumstances and shifting consumer sentiment.

Despite the U.S. election result having been decided, there is skepticism regarding the outcome. But that skepticism existed even before Election Day. According to a recent YouGov poll, 47% of people didn’t believe the election would be “fair and honest,” and 50% believed people would disagree on who was legitimately elected.

Increased news coverage, polarized social conversation, and potential social unrest is the reality we need to now navigate. The choices a company makes under these circumstances must be done in a careful and customized manner, taking risk tolerance and other key factors into account. Should you distance from, or lean into, political conversations? Future-thinking strategies can help marketers chart the path forward and make balanced decisions consistent with their brand values.

At GroupM, we’ve been planning and preparing with our clients for this period of uncertainty. Here’s our road map.

Implement additional stewardship and protocols

To avoid controversial content, it’s important to quickly establish additional stewardship considerations and protocols across channels.

Social media continues to be an environment engulfed in opposing views. While many platforms are working to create safe environments for brands — including putting more measures in place to stop the spread of misinformation — there are still humans involved in the conversations and content published. This makes it essential to navigate social conversations with keyword and contextual alignment, in some cases working with a third-party brand suitability partner (like IAS, DoubleVerify, Moat, OpenSlate, and Pixability) to protect your brand from content you wish to avoid. Additionally, regular review of verification settings and reevaluation of the social climate and campaign performance will likely be necessary.

Beyond social, we’re guiding our partners to begin increased screening of programming, particularly late night and talk shows, as well as news magazine channels. It will also be important to monitor additional pod positioning around programming adjacent to political coverage. Consider developing an enhanced content inclusion/exclusion list, with suitable partners and environments, in the event a change in media investment is warranted.

Marketers should proactively align on reinvestment scenarios now, to execute quickly should media disruptions continue.

Align on reinvestment scenarios

Across national TV, we are seeing a surge in news coverage resulting in preemptions of regularly scheduled programming. As we look toward the future, all signs point to continued disruption of network schedules. And many broadcast partners have not developed contingency plans to manage this increase in preemptions.

Marketers should proactively align on reinvestment scenarios now, to execute quickly should media disruptions continue. Identify the safe content environments that best align with your plan goals. Can volume and reach be replaced with a next best alternative? If so, it’s worth considering and planning out where your dollars will be spent to maintain that reach. If not, what trade-offs are to be expected? Assess the options to replan media weight and spending, and then consider how that may impact existing plans and objectives.

Since negative sentiment may surround the election, brands will need to evaluate whether their tone and creative are relevant to consumers in the moment.

Reevaluate and optimize creative

Creative assessments have become even more important since November 3. The fourth quarter marks an important time for retail and the holiday season. Since negative sentiment may surround the election, brands will need to evaluate whether their tone and creative are relevant to consumers in the moment. How much, or little, needs to change?

It’s important to begin navigating discussions about the development of a creative optimization strategy. This includes alignment on alternative creative use and rights should the creative fail to resonate or receive backlash mid-campaign. The ability to add, cancel, or change copy by individual market or region may also take on increasing importance across local and digital buys.

This is a challenging environment. The media is in uncharted territory. People are understandably anxious. And marketers are steering their brands through it all. With all of the uncertainty we are facing, it’s pivotal for investment and strategy teams to rethink their readiness plan today.

If you would like to learn more about YouTube's commitments to brand safety and suitability, please visit YouTube.com/HowYouTubeWorks.

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