Advertising Suspended as US Media Begins War Coverage

24 March 2003

As expected [WAMN: 19-Mar-03], US advertisers are scrambling to withdraw or alter their ads as the war in Iraq begins in earnest.

Marketers have already begun changing their strategies, while news networks such as CNN and Fox News are dropping commercials in favour of uninterrupted coverage. TV broadcasters are expected to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in ad revenues as a result.

Early moves were made by AT&T and Cox Communications. The former has paused the television campaign it launched only last Monday. “We'll remain in this mode for at least 24 hours and allow world events to help guide our decision on when we'll resume our marketing and advertising activities,” the telecoms giant declared.

Cox, on the other hand, has changed the wording and imagery of a campaign set to break today (Monday). Instead of the originally planned comic scenarios, the ads portray the cable firm’s services as the best way to keep in touch with world events.

The war is also affecting websites. America Online, for example, has pulled all ads from its welcome screen and its AOL News site.

Elsewhere, MasterCard is suspending all media activity for a week, hotel chain Sheraton is delaying its new campaign for up to three months, while Procter & Gamble says it will only advertise when “normal, family and entertainment programming resumes.”

To aid such cancellations, ad trade bodies have been advising agencies to prepare in advance for the outbreak of hostilities. The American Association of Advertising Agencies recently contacted its members suggesting they develop alternative ads suitable for war and insert clauses in media contracts to “guarantee safe adjacencies away from violent or otherwise disturbing wartime imagery.”

Aside from revenues lost from the withdrawal of ads, the decision by broadcasters to run commercial-free coverage could cost local and national networks up to $684 million (€647m; £437m) over six days, according US media observer Joe Mandese.

Data sourced from: multiple sources; additional content by WARC staff