But Madison Avenue was also skittish in some ways. Companies faced conflicting advice to pause marketing campaigns out of respect for Ukraine, but also to speak out in support of the country. Executives were pressured to pause their advertising campaigns and instead gift their marketing budgets to humanitarian aid organizations (though warnings circulated on social media about scammers pretending to collect donations for relief efforts).
The Russia-Ukraine War and the Global Economy
Wall-to-wall news coverage showing the smoking rubble of residential buildings and newborn infants in intensive care in a makeshift bomb shelter caused familiar fears to resurface for companies that had worried during the pandemic about how their advertising would be perceived alongside tragic news events.
Within a week of Russia’s first attack, several ads had faced criticism, including an Applebee’s ad that appeared amid a CNN broadcast about air raid sirens in Kyiv.
Kylie Jenner, the “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” star and beauty brand executive, faced accusations of being “tone deaf” when she posted an Instagram Story offering her “thoughts and prayers” to Ukrainians and followed it two hours later with a post promoting a lip shine product.
The Aggregator Show, an event in New Jersey geared to Amazon vendors, said it fired a worker who advertised the gathering by writing in a LinkedIn post that “while Russia is taking over Ukraine, we’re taking over the Amazon event industry.” The post ended with a taunt: “Whoever can’t handle it, take shelter.”
“This is not who we are or what we are about,” the company said in a statement about the post.
Afraid of stumbling into a similar scenario, some companies have begun blocking their ads from appearing next to news coverage about the crisis in Ukraine, brand safety specialists said. The precautions echo a rush in 2020 to avoid stories featuring words such as “coronavirus” and “pandemic,” although concerns about depriving publishers of critical advertising revenue has pushed many companies to evolve their blocking strategies.
“To put things into perspective, this is a real crisis situation that’s life or death for many people,” said Jason Lee, the senior vice president of digital and data strategy for Horizon Media. “What we’re doing in the advertising and media world is very important, but we also have to be mindful of this larger conflict occurring, and so it gets back to the question: Could a brand be part of the conversation, and should they?”