In 2024, the media landscape is set to be flooded with political noise, making it even harder for brands to cut through. Anjali Bewtra, Strategy Director at Blue State, looks at the key considerations for brands, including deciding whether to take a stand on political issues, or not, and the importance of investing in quality journalism.

In 2024, as well as big marketing moments like the Olympic Games and the UEFA Euro men’s football championship, there are 49 national elections taking place.

The US, the UK – and 47 other countries – in total representing more than 50% of global GDP, are all voting on their national leadership.

The number of people impacted is huge. Bangladesh in January – with a population of 186 million people. Pakistan, in February – almost 248 million people; Russia, in March – 142 million people; Mexico, in June – 130 million people; and the US in November – 335 million people.

There are elections, too, in some countries with smaller populations but a big geopolitical impact – Taiwan, the UK, and South Korea to name a few.

Along with economic and geopolitical impacts, risks, and challenges, the effects on attention and the media landscape globally are going to be immense. This could be a year where we see new connections form across communities and countries – or one where we become an even more fractured and divided society.

The technology is moving faster than people can keep up, and audiences lacking digital literacy can often become a target for new forms of disinformation.

And in every country, and every election, the issues will be totally unique.

This raises some important questions for brands:

  • Should brands deliver campaigns in such a crowded context?
  • How will the declining trust of consumers impact advertising and media?
  • How could and should organisations prepare for 2024? What issues do they need to be aware of, and how can they get ahead of crises?

Cutting through…

If you think it’s hard to reach consumers now, it’s about to get even harder next year. There’s barely a market on the planet that won’t feel the impact.

The amount of political advertising alone will skew the market and media plans. In the UK alone, for example, the government has raised the spending cap per seat by 80% – almost doubling the spend we’ll see on political ads in Britain alone.

…and being believed

The use and misuse of AI; ‘conventional’ disinformation, unrest, overwhelm. If it was hard to convince people of your messages before, 2024 will provide the most challenging environment yet.

We already know that some audiences feel disconnected and underrepresented and lack trust in ruling organisations. This will be ramped up in 2024 – it’ll be imperative to create sparks, not to stoke the fire.

All campaigns in election markets, even those with no connection to politics, will need to consider that their audiences will be starting from a different place next year. It will be even more imperative for brands to work on navigating diverse opinions and briefs; demonstrating real commitment to transparency, values and change, and fostering connection to ensure they don’t play into societal divides.

That’s not to say that brands can’t adopt a stance. It’s instead about using their large footprints, spend, and influence responsibly and not leaning one way or causing division simply for likes, attention, and coverage.

Plan for rapid change and be prepared to think on your feet

As elections unfold and take unexpected turns, the landscape for advertising and media becomes increasingly uncertain.

Brands may inadvertently align themselves with contentious issues, risking alienation of certain audience groups.

Brands will need to assess their need for scenario and contingency plans, and for extra resources when operating in election markets. Staying silent, in a crisis, is not an option. It's crucial to consider what the first 8 and 24 hours look like should an issue arise. Brands will need both a monitoring and counter-narrative strategy in place with a clear escalation plan and content approvals.

Misinformation, disinformation, debunking and prebunking

All of the above are going to create a level of wariness for consumers in 2024 – AI and disinformation will be in the air, and people will be attuned to it.

Yes, Meta has banned political advertisers from using generative AI, but there will still be a challenge around misinformation and disinformation through communications and wider canvassing initiatives.

However, there is still a place for brands to be part of a positive narrative.

Digital literacy will be a key defence in the spread of false narratives, so brands need to take on a role in fostering digital literacy among their audiences.

Educational campaigns and partnerships with organisations dedicated to media literacy can help more vulnerable consumers discern fact from fiction. Brands should not be afraid to call out false narratives. Media-wise, brands can play their part by supporting quality journalism and investing ad spend in safer spaces that prioritise facts.

Prioritising authenticity and fact checking; promoting credible information and prebunking / debunking myths will go a long way in reinforcing a culture of truth and transparency. A recent study on this showed that prebunking (teaching audiences how to spot fake claims before they actually encounter them) and debunking were both effective in changing perceptions.

The study also showed that a range of sources of factual narratives were effective – so brands can engage in this de-/pre-bunking space too, if it is appropriate for them to do so.

It may also be a good time to revisit partnerships and co-creation, allowing brands to spotlight important stories not normally being told and help set the record straight.

As an example – Blue State worked with UK for UNHCR on a campaign to communicate the truth around refugees. The insight was that misinformation and negativity dominate the narrative and eclipse the real support for refugees that exists across the country – such as the fact that four out of five Brits believe all refugees deserve safety.

The campaign used press, OOH, online, and influencers such as UNHCR ambassadors Cate Blanchett and Stanley Tucci to reach more than 44 million people and set the record straight.

Prioritise digital literacy, and invest in quality media

If you thought it was hard to get a message through now, it's going to get even trickier in 2024. It will be cluttered, noisy, and tense – and audiences will call out anything phoney very easily. Disingenuous or tone-deaf brands will not get away with it.

There’s a chance for brands to come out of 2024 well, but it will require deeper and more intelligent work up front and behind the scenes to get your messages through and properly received. Brands need to embrace the complexity of diverse political landscapes, prioritise digital literacy, invest in quality media and journalism, and work even harder to rebuild consumer trust.

That way, they will still spark the public’s interest, rather than risk either being a victim of misinformation or having audiences mistrust their communications and product(s).

In marketing, we often talk about the need for authenticity and transparency. But on this occasion, these aren’t just buzzwords, they are crucial for a brand to survive in the pressure cooker of 2024.

Brands will need to know when to have an opinion and when to stay silent. If they want to stand up for an issue in 2024, it cannot afford to be skin deep. It needs to be accompanied by a perspective, action, and impact that shows why you have a right to be there.