hot brand in fire
Sometimes brands get swept up in associations that bring their brand value down. These tips help you avoid negative (and costly) associations PHOTO: Derek Gavey

In today’s hyper-connected world, marketers must work tirelessly to avoid or manage associations with current events or risk potentially alienating their customers.

Facebook’s announcement last month to hire more human intervention in the wake of Russian ad purchases is yet another example of the vetting association between brands, products and their marketing channels. It was reported that Facebook submitted 3,000 ads from the Internet Research Agency, an organization with Russian ties, to the Senate and House intelligence committees and the Senate Judiciary Committee for investigation.

The ads were meant to heighten political divisions among the American public, and potentially swayed the 2016 election. Facebook estimates over 10 million impressions of the ads were shown. In the aftermath, Facebook is looking to hire 1,000 people to tighten enforcement of ad placement quality.

While the Facebook-Russian ad fraud is extreme, vetting ad quality has been a marketing concern ever since the first digital ad. What is at stake for marketers is more than just protecting brand integrity. Consumer reactions on how a business is perceived against world events must be better managed.

Instances of digital association occur all around marketers today, an outcome of ad fraud issues and protecting content from extremists sites.

Branding Concerns Intensify

Instances for branding concerns first occurred on social media. Social media has expanded how and where these types of associations happen. People can share video and commentary easily, creating a need among marketers to be a bit savvy as to how associations play out.

For example, I noted a funny response to an Oreo cookie tweet a few years ago. Oreo jokingly suggested to bring snacks — an Oreo cookie, perhaps? — to a movie theatre. AMC Theaters, which has rules against bringing outside food to a theatre, tweet back "not smart cookie."

AMC Theater tweet to Oreo

The public’s adoption of social media and marketers' drive for customer attention has lead to the occasional product and/or service to become swept into social issues, leading to businesses stating their positions on events and to managers quickly scrutinizing brand violations of message. One example in recent current events is Tiki Brands, which responded on its Facebook page when images of its torches appeared in the hands of Neo-Nazi protesters at Charlottesville this summer.

Unsupervised associations of brand and message invites brutal responses from the public, especially when brands comment too extensively on a high profile social issue. I wrote about some aspects of these concerns in an earlier post.

Some approaches should be immediate, such as the Tiki Brand response. But note the sustainability of a trend is possible. Statistical approaches can now examine the conditions of when media appears.

This is radically new from an analytics standpoint. Most analytic reports present observations on website activity — you see a click from such and such visitor segment and analysts made business assumptions based on the observations.

But now conditions surrounding those metrics can be examined — conditions which can be explained with statistics models. This analysis capability was not available initially, when paid search ads first arrived on the scene.

Some analysis is essential for social media ads. Social ads are shown based on consumer preferences and commentary. Managers must validate the condition in which those ads appear. They can do so with the latest statistical capabilities introduced with cloud computing. A manager can import data into Python or R programming and determine if correlations among observational data exist.

With smart data incorporated into models, managers can better audit what gets associated when their message appears.

Ad Integrity Concerns Increase Among Marketers

The worries about ad integrity among marketers is becoming widespread. eMarketer quoted an Adobe survey of US digital marketers in which half the respondents cited fraud concerns among the leading challenges to media buying.

Ultimately managers must always be on the lookout for these type of associations. Be it from ads or social media commentary, managers are learning they must evolve to keep up with changes and threats. Ad fraud detection and prevention has advanced over the years, but that is due in part to the levels in which fraudulent parties have gone to deceive marketers. In my post about managing political statements or events that impact a brand, I suggested many tips that managers can also apply in protecting advertising campaigns from ever evolving tactics to mar a message.

Final Thoughts

The secret to effective marketing and analytics is just one: evolve. Or risk becoming yesterday’s news.