In the wake of violence at the US Capitol, advertisers are playing it safe with their messaging around President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration.
Wednesday, January 20, is more likely to be a sombre than joyous occasion, and advertisers are thinking about how to manage the possibility of unexpected events.
Some advertisers have big-budget campaigns tied to the inauguration. Matt Bayer, head of integrated media at agency Crossmedia, said many marketers see it as "a pivotal moment to build optimism and excitement around better days ahead."
But one major TV news buyer told Insider on Thursday: "Yesterday was a game changer for everybody. The networks understand what is at stake."
"Right now everybody is reassessing what they've booked or are about to book and asking are there contingencies in place," the buyer said. "If I'm the head of marketing at a company, I'd ask, 'Is this a place I want to be, or celebrating the first hundred days?' There is so much chaos."
Indeed, Interactive Advertising Bureau president David Cohen has received a volley of calls from advertisers looking for advice about what could happen over the next two weeks.
Cohen advised clients to do scenario planning in the light of violent protests and fears they could re-erupt.
"Know what's in your tool box, but don't block everything if you don't have to. Don't think you have to run away from it," Cohen said.
Some brands have returned to business as usual — with caveats.
A major ad holding company exec said they added new terms like "Capitol" to their keyword blacklist alongside older entries like "Trump" and "election" when the riots started.
Ad agency execs said around 50% of clients who chose to pull ad buys on Wednesday have since un-paused their campaigns but that they're closely monitoring the news.
One of the execs, Michael Law, president of Amplifi, the media investment division of ad giant Dentsu, said other clients remain in wait-and-see mode. Law said Dentsu would update its guidelines on an hourly basis for the rest of the month.
"We can't just say 'I set my parameters and trust that they'll work,'" Law said.
Security concerns remain high. "We do have an inauguration that is coming up, and I have concerns about the safety of the participants in the inauguration," Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said on NPR.
Others see an opportunity for brands to rally around a cause message. "It's a great time to message for unification and inclusion and the road ahead," said Greg D'Alba, former chief operating officer and president of ad sales at CNN and now CEO of artificial intelligence-driven public sentiment firm, enViibe.
It's not yet clear which brands will sponsor Biden's inauguration or advertise around the event. AT&T is typically one of the biggest companies to participate every four years. A spokesman declined to comment on its involvement this year.
Other key sponsors of past ceremonies include Google, Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase, healthcare giants like UnitedHealth and Roche, and ad holding company IPG.