Brand Strategy

Time for Advertising Hibernation

By Posted 04 May 2022

As seen in Mumbrella and AdNews

Advertisers - if you have advertising scheduled to air in the coming few weeks, particularly if there is a chance that you will follow a political ad, then think very seriously about postponing the communication until post the election.

The May 21 Australian Federal election is less than three weeks away and it is time for brands that are concerned for the efficacy of their advertising to go into communication hibernation until post the election.

Brand-safety does not just relate to the kind of extreme material involved in the YouTube brand-safety scandal of 2017. Forethought has shown that any preceding content that elicits a negative emotion, can markedly affect the performance of subsequent brand advertising.

During the 2016 United States presidential election, Forethought in partnership with J. Walter Thompson NYC measured the impact on the efficacy of neighbouring ads when the brand ad followed a spot for presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

In total, 12 different political ads were tested for their effect on brand ads. (These findings were published in ‘The effect of context on ad receptivity,’ Roberts, Sankey et al ADMAP, November 2017.)

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Liberal Party of Australia, Feb 6th, 2022 -

The hypothesis going into the research was that just the attack spots (denigrating the opponent) would be damaging to the following spot however, all political ads significantly detracted from the following brand ads’ performance. This finding held true regardless of whether the person was a Democrat or Republican voter even when assessing their own party’s advertising.

In short, the residue of negative emotion elicited by the preceding political ads, significantly damaged the performance of the brand ads therefore wasting advertising investment. The implications for context and brand-safety are profound: the hangover effect of negative emotions generated by political content flows directly into the brands.

  • When the brand ad ran after a political ad, it was perceived as 32% less relevant, 29% less entertaining and 27% less appealing.
  • The brand itself was also negatively impacted. Viewers rated the brand's reputation, product quality and value lower as a result of the negative political spot.
  • Most concerning for brand marketers was the 26% decline in current customers' purchase intent.

The simple solution is to ensure your advertising does not follow political advertising although with programmatic media buying, that may be easily said than done.

Were these findings generalisable to beyond just political spots? The Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) sponsored Forethought to repeat the experiment using brand spots that intentionally elicited unresolved negative emotions (specifically anxiety, anger and sadness). The ads were for an insurance brand (Allstate Insurance).

The results showed that the findings from the political study were replicated with the same negative hangover effect occurring after consumers had watched the insurance ads. (These findings were referenced in ‘How Context Can Make Advertising More Effective,’ Horst Stipp, Journal of Advertising Research, June 2018.)

How is Context Being Used Today?

Converse to the effects of negative ads, an elicitation of positive emotions from media content results in a more favourable, non-conscious processing of the advertising shown alongside that content. In 2019, Turner Broadcasting (NBA, CNN and so on) commissioned Forethought to assist in creating branded content adjacent to product placement which elicits the brand’s target positive emotion.

Leading advertisers and media proprietors are learning to adapt to the findings from brand-safety research. Organisations such as Turner are applying the learnings to positively effect advertisers’ communications performance. Soon, we are certain to see media proprietors charging premiums to advertisers for placement of spots following relevant positive content. For example, a brand that is seeking to elicit happiness, presenting to an individual Collingwood Football Club supporter a spot directly after a Collingwood has scored a winning goal.

In the meantime, either pay the extra to take the first ad in the break (given the election is less than three weeks away, the lead time for securing the first ad in the break probably makes this option impractical) or think very seriously about postponing the communication until post the election.

Ken Roberts | Executive Chairman | Forethought


Forethought is a leading customer and marketing analytics and strategy advisory firm.

Forethought, with the largest marketing science team in Australia, partners 80 clients in Australia to drive customer and market share growth via providing the evidence and CMO advisory support focused on customer acquisition and retention strategy and market share growth. In North America, Forethought partners with the fastest growing airline, JetBlue as well as several category leading brands.