Advertisers threaten NBC for covering NFL protests, reflecting ongoing social justice struggles
Traditional media power-players seem spooked by the reach and relative newness of digital media and digital natives’ use of their platforms to amplify justice. Legacy brands, that present televised commercials to viewers, increasingly face off with digital media advertisers, and the social media realm of clicks, celebrities and influencers. And neither legacy brands nor digital media is exempt from the ripples that follow racist injustice.
Take John Schnatter, Papa John’s CEO, who blamed low pizza sales on the NFL’s failure to squelch peaceful protest from players who took a knee against police brutality. Papa John’s later announced it would remove the NFL logo from their televised ads, along with “official sponsor” descriptions of the company in connection with the league.
“There is a list of advertisers that have made themselves very clear: ‘If you continue to cover the political coverage of the issue, we will not be part of the NFL,’” Linda Yaccarino, NBCUniversal’s chairperson of advertising sales and client partnerships, told Deadline. Yaccarino said no advertisers had pulled out of NFL games yet because of the protests, but have put the network on warning that could change. “Think about it—they have half the country that is cheering about that and half the country that is emailing them saying, ‘Don’t do that.’ That’s a real thing.”
Yaccarino claims to want to shift ad agencies toward using a more digitally friendly focus, suggesting agencies use software, algorithms and data to more effectively advertise to consumers in contemporary times. She also suggested that external management can help streamline advertising.
Advertising should include careful balances of suggestive sales, diverse representation of consumer groups and sensitive messages. However, the purported balance between traditional and digital media is more sinister. Legacy brands fear Facebook, Google and Amazon because they possess broad reach, but also seem to operate under different rules. Facebook can be the digital photo gallery and meet-up for people who would rather receive a notification about a co-worker’s upcoming birthday than remember Facebook let Russian operatives interfere with the American political system through advertising.
Yaccarino offered cautionary words. “What’s going to really affect this over the next three years is an absolute, maybe legislated, discipline that needs to come to the digital space,” Yaccarino said. “Whether it’s influence on elections, whether it’s a discipline when it comes to measurement, or a damn basic respect for the consumer and putting the right ad with the right content where it was intended, and you don’t have a consequence if you don’t behave that way? There’s enough friction that that’s going to go.”