Networks Scramble to Pull Ads During Conflict

Mar 24, 2003  •  Post A Comment

As the war against Iraq started last week, agencies and various broadcast and cable outlets scrambled to make sure that advertisers who wanted to be pulled off the air got off.
Results were mixed.
And the cost to the various TV outlets-broadcast and cable, local and national-was estimated by Advertising Age to be about $100 million between March 19 and March 21.
Home Depot, for example, had requested that all of its ads be pulled, according to one executive with knowledge of the retailer’s instructions. Yet as the ground war got under way last week, at least one Home Depot spot could still be found on MSNBC.
Likewise, Toyota Motor Sales USA had explicit plans that its ads were to be pulled from all news programming for 72 hours after the war started. However, Toyota spots were still running the night of March 20. How come? The problem was “a debate with the networks and the ad community on whether missile strikes [launched March 19] constituted the beginning of war,” a Toyota spokesman said.
“Advertisers are all over the place on this,” said one top broadcast network executive. “Some don’t want to be pulled at all, and at the other extreme some have told us, `Don’t put us back on the air until we call you and tell you it’s OK.”’
The one category that seems to want to be off air entirely, for now, is the travel and tourism industry, the executive said.
One agency buyer said most of his clients planned to go “dark” for the first two or three days of the war.
Procter & Gamble is one of the major advertisers planning to observe a 48-hour blackout before returning to air, according to industry sources.
MasterCard most likely will stay off the air even after sustaining coverage ends.
“In this current atmosphere of uncertainty, MasterCard is monitoring emerging developments, reviewing the impact of the situation on television programming and assessing consumer sentiment,” MasterCard said in a statement. “We are continuously analyzing the situation to determine the most appropriate media strategy for the moment-which includes the possibility of a temporary suspension of a majority of our current media schedule.”
Ads Withheld
The initial plan is for “approximately one week of being off-air,” said a MasterCard spokesman, who added that the unfolding events would determine the company’s final course.
Anheuser-Busch is simply fine-tuning ads to reflect more somber times. The U.S. Army is launching a new ad campaign.
According to a recent study by MediaVest Worldwide, Americans want their ads back on the air quickly. In two recent telephone surveys of 1,000 Americans each, MediaVest found that 71 percent of the people surveyed thought it is appropriate to end an advertising blackout and resume advertising within two days after the beginning of a national crisis; 28 percent said it is appropriate to begin advertising within three to six hours of the start of such a crisis, while 31 percent said the ad blackout should end after one day and 12 percent felt that two days without ads is long enough.
In terms of tailoring the ads to the gravity of the wartime situation, the MediaVest study suggested that “Advertisers need to take care [because] consumers are sensitive but patriotic,” and, “Caution needs to be taken, particularly with humor.”
Advertising Age staffers Wayne Friedman and Stephanie Thompson contributed to this report.