We’ve all heard the adage that “Any Publicity is Good Publicity”.  But I can’t bring myself to accept that claim when it involves advertising and when the negative publicity is easily avoidable and wouldn’t impact the business plan of an ad campaign one iota.

The recent unfortunate events in Kalamazoo, MI have shown the spotlight on Uber.  The ride service finds itself embroiled in the event as the alleged shooter was apparently a driver for the service and was reportedly picking up and dropping off fares in-between events in the alleged shooting.  News services across the internet have been picking up the story with headlines like “Kalamzaoo mass shooting suspect was Uber driver

Now, I’m writing on technical topics related to online marketing.  So, you might ask yourself, why is Matt writing about a shooting.  How can the publicity from this be even considered remotely good?

It isn’t.  But the shooting itself isn’t my topic.  It is how Uber’s advertising campaigns and the news coverage are converging in a particularly poorly timed and avoidable circumstance.

Uber ad screenshot of contextual ad

In the wake of a tragedy linked to Uber, should Uber really be advertising on the news coverage with a “Sales” Message?

I am going to make an assumption that Uber hasn’t decided to place ads directly on the coverage of this event.  I also don’t believe MLive.com would honor that particular placement request.  Promotion of this type, in the face of this kind of tragedy just tends to rub readers and the public in general in the wrong way.  If they were, I don’t think the message would be “Hurry up and save…”

My guess is, this is an ad campaign, placed on an ad network that is contextually driven.  Contextual ads, ads that target content based on keywords, have been around for quite some time.  This is not a new or emerging technology.  In fact, in the world of digital marketing it might be the closest thing that we have to “Old School”.  But it is still widely used and generally effective.

So in this case, I’m betting Uber, or one of its promotional agencies is running an ad campaign based on the company’s name or based on keywords tied to its core service of passenger delivery.  Both of which are getting wide coverage in these stories.

The thing is, these ads don’t have to be here.  Because just as much as you can target specific keywords, you can set up exclusions for keywords.  So, for instance, if the words shooting, kill, killer, death, dead, homicide, or any number of other terms show up in the content, you can exclude the content from the delivery model.  This is contextual targeting 101.

All too often, the focus is so much on where the campaign shows up that little to no focus is given to where it shouldn’t show up.  Where it shows up is a marketing concern.  When it shows up in places that may not be as well thought out, that typically becomes a PR concern.  Given Uber’s history in the headlines, I’m shocked that this is a lesson that they haven’t learned yet.  But maybe somebody there proscribes to the “Any Publicity is GOOD Publicity” mantra.

This isn’t an issue solely for the largest of businesses.  The barrier for entry for contextual advertising is extremely low so businesses of all sizes are utilizing it.

So, the message I’m trying to get across is simple.  If you are going to market your business online.  Give as much thought to where you don’t want your ad to appear as to where your ad should appear.  Unless of course you enjoy alienating potential customers and painting your business as a careless automaton with no sympathy or empathy.  In this case, those might even the “Good” outcomes of Uber’s ad campaign.  At least in the Kalamazoo market.



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