8 Questions Every Brand Should Answer Around the Russia-Ukraine Conflict

war torn Ukraine Flag

When a crisis like the invasion of Ukraine occurs, its effects ripple throughout the world and industries.

As a brand, it’s often not clear how to respond when a situation like this happens. What are the first actions you should take, and how fast?

Applebee’s and CNN found themselves on the wrong side of that exact question due to Applebee’s split-screen ad running alongside a video of bombings in Ukraine.

In response, the brand pulled all advertising off CNN, and CNN, to rectify their mistake, has removed all picture-in-picture advertising on coverage of the Ukraine-Russia conflict.

Applebee's location

It’s a cautionary tale, for sure, but given the speed at which everything moves today, couldn’t Applebee’s and CNN have responded faster? 

Could this mishap, which has damaged both brands, been avoided?

We believe so.  

It’s understandable why brands would feel their reputations are at stake or their values are questioned when advertising.

And unfortunately, this can lead to the knee-jerk reaction we’ve seen where brands are wholesale blocking the keywords “Ukraine” and “Russia” on all advertising platforms.

This works to keep your brand away from content related to the current invasion, but this approach has two significant flaws.

  1. It’s purely reactive—and as such, it’s always too late. If you rely on a strictly reactive approach, it’s only a matter of time before you find yourselves in Applebee’s or CNN’s shoes.
  2. It does nothing to prepare you for where the story may go tomorrow. Today Russia and Ukraine are the keywords to block. Unfortunately, with a crisis like this, the situation could rapidly evolve to envelop a more extensive set of keywords that represent the antithesis of what your brand stands for.

The Best Time To Develop Your Game Plan Was Ten Months Ago

We started tracking this moment nine months ago, when the first whispers of a crisis began to generate news and social conversation. 

What can you do as a brand to set yourself up to be proactively prepared for this current crisis and the ones laying in wait?

The answer, do a deep dive into your brand’s mentality and prepare a comprehensive, granular profile that addresses as many scenarios and nuances around events arising in the world today. That way, you’ve already answered the questions and aren’t scrambling to put a POV and a late-to-the-game strategy in place.

Here Are 8 Questions We Think Every Brand Should Be Ready To React To In the Current Climate

Steven Seagal
  1. What will you do if negative news comes out about someone in one of your creatives?

What will you do if an influencer in one of your creatives comes out with a counter-culture view of the war? 

A real-time example of this is Steven Seagal. 

He has shown support for Putin’s actions in the past and is putting his opinions of the current conflict into the public sphere. That could cause a headache for any brand connected to him.

As a brand, you can decide to block or closely monitor content automatically when negative news comes out surrounding someone in one of your creatives.

  1. What will you do if positive news comes out about someone in one of your creatives?
Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis

What will you do if an influencer in one of your creatives does something noble during this crisis?

Do you have a plan to support their actions?

Let’s look at the press that two Hollywood couples are generating because of their support for Ukraine. 

Ashton Kutcher backed Ukraine with a tweet that went Viral on February 24th. His partner and fellow star Mila Kunis is from Ukraine and spent her first seven years there.

Another high-profile couple, Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds, have gone viral by pledging to match donations (up to a million dollars) in support of Ukraine.

If any of these four influencers were connected to my brand, I would want to automatically target these stories or, at the minimum, monitor them.

  1. What will you do when political leaders receive positive press?

What does your brand want to do if a political leader receives positive press?

It’s undeniable that Ukrainian President Zelinsky has come out to be an incredibly inspirational leader during this dark time for his country. 

Many brands might choose to block all political content, but if you are in charge of a politically charged brand, stories related to the positive political press could offer you an outsized return.

Either way, as a brand, you should have your game plan in place for how you want your advertising team to deal with this situation.

Putin and Trump
  1. What will you do when political leaders receive negative press?

Trump’s name, for example, has been back in the news due to positive comments he said about Vladimir Putin. 

The gut reaction in this scenario for almost all brands would be to block the content, which is an incredibly reasonable approach, but some news brands might be ok here. 

Whether you want to block, target, or monitor this scenario, it’s essential as a brand to decide and communicate to your team about how to deal with it. A lack of clarity can lead to massive opportunities missed and open yourself up to brand reputation loss.

Pouring Russian vodka down the drains
  1. How will your brand react when consumers boycott a brand for political reasons?

Russian brands are coming under more and more scrutiny by the American and international courts of public opinion.

For instance, look at all of the videos and articles surfacing of consumers and bars pouring their Russian vodka down the drain.

If I were a competitor to a Russian Vodka brand, I’d see this as an opportunity, but others may choose to avoid these media moments. 

What will your brand do if consumers boycott a product in your competitive landscape?

  1. How do you want your brand to react when other businesses take political stances on the war?
Disney Sony and Warner Bros pause Russian releases

If you look at the news, this is happening in mass and is only expected to continue. Below are a small handful of the companies that are taking political stances.

  • BP is exiting its 20% stake in Russian state-owned Rosneft 
  • Volvo and Harly Davidson are suspending business with Russia 
  • Master Card and Visa have blocked certain Russian activity on their payment networks 
  • Google has barred RT and other Russian channels from receiving advertising dollars
  • Disney, Warner and Sony have halted the release of films in Russia

Do you want to take a stance as a brand? Do you want to support other brands that are taking stances? Do you want to avoid the subject? 

Are any of those brands competitors of yours, or on the flip side, inspirations?

Any answer to this scenario is acceptable, but you should have a solution for how you want your brand to react.

Protests in Prague
  1. What will you do when politically motivated protests occur?

Protests over the war are erupting all over the globe; how do you want your brand to respond?

Do you want your brand to lean into and show support for the protest? Or is a political protest too far away from your brand’s mentality?

A third option would be to closely monitor them for a potential situation that aligns with your brand.

  1. What will your brand do when conspiracy theories start popping up?
Q Anon supporter

Conspiracy theories about the “real” reason Russia is invading Ukraine are already coming out. 

We’ve all seen recent examples of how small fringe ideas can quickly create massive media moments. Take QAnon, for instance. The once small group of conspiracy theorists has grown into a social movement that now includes thousands of Americans. 

This crisis is producing a climate that might be ripe for a fast-growing fringe conspiracy. 

How would you want your brand to react if one gains steam?

Looking Forward

The questions above just scratch the surface of what a brand needs to prepare for in the modern age of lightspeed communication, viral trends that blink in and out of existence, and the terabytes of data that get consumed daily.

There are hundreds more questions brands should answer to adequately anticipate all the unexpected moments that could either impact their reputations or offer opportunities—to connect with their audiences on shared values or hack competitors’ misalignments, for example. 

Without those proactive, granular profiles in place, they’re just Applebee’s and CNNs waiting to happen.

Poll: Answer the poll below see results from LinkedIn poll…

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