I’ve wanted to destroy my coffee maker many times over. I’m not a morning person and coffee is the only thing that transforms me into my normal, chipper self fit for the workplace. But on the days when something goes awry – the coffee is gone, the power is out, I’ve run out of filters – I take my frustrations out on the coffee machine. Silly, I know.

And then on November 13 of this year, my tune changed. People across the country posted to social media videos of themselves punishing their Keurigs. Why? Not because they were dissatisfied with the product, but because politics, of course. Keurig had pulled its ads from conservative talk show The Sean Hannity Show, after acquiescing to a liberal-leaning twitter user’s complaint about the company’s advertising appearing on the show.

This is just one of the latest examples of a company that has been injected into a highly politicized situation with no good way out because of an ad buy. And the PR department is always left with the same bad choice: You choose this side, the other hates you and vice versa.

So what should your PR strategy be when responding to angry Twitter?

If there is no way to navigate out of a crisis, let’s just state that it’s not a crisis. Instead of delicately walking a line in an incredibly polarized nation, let’s remove the line. Instead of trying to rewrite the manual each time we get criticized, let’s learn from the profiles of the people who are attacking us.

If we accept that your retweets are not endorsements, Mr. Tweeter, you must accept that neither are our advertisements. If somebody does not like where our ads are placed, let’s just all say: “The advertisement in question is not an endorsement of the content on the channel.”

If we accept that your retweets are not endorsements, Mr. Tweeter, you must accept that neither are our ads.Click To Tweet

Through this one phrase, we elegantly (if I do say so myself) accomplish four key things that will not only be a boon to your company but the free markets. No lie. Here they are:

Eliminate Dissent

“Taylor, nobody can preempt social media dissent,” you say. “There will always be someone with a bone to pick on social media.” That may be true, but there’s another beautiful component of this. If this disclaimer is universally used by all companies for all ad buying disputes, the argument loses all weight and credibility. For example, if someone criticizes Taylor’s Stereo Store for advertising on MSNBC at the same time someone else criticizes Fenske Automotive for advertising on Fox and they get the same response, it levels the playing field. Better yet, it eliminates the field of play entirely. It is no longer a game, it’s just advertising.

Farfetched? Not really. It’s been done before. Before McDonalds put a disclaimer on its coffee cup, it was sued because its coffee was hot and burned someone. After the disclaimer went on the cup, people realized the product for what it actually was – a hot drink. Now, any person that complains about hot coffee is justly ignored. Not convinced? Let’s look at insurance companies. They get away with saying they’re not responsible for “Acts of God” because of a disclaimer. No matter your religious beliefs, you have to agree this a vague and wide-ranging claim. But consumers buy into it hook line and sinker – even if they don’t believe in God!

Encourage Market Efficiency

Okay, this one sounds like a stretch, but stay with me. Companies buy advertising for one reason: to sell stuff. In an efficient market, the channel the advertisement appears on would be a function of the volume of the company’s target audience viewing that channel. Therefore, the company is spending its money where it has the greatest chance of success. Effective. Efficient. Done.

On the other hand, if a company has to consider each program on each channel on each network in each region in each country they advertise in, and then analyze how those programs may or may not offend people who may or may not be customers, you can imagine how inefficient things can become. In fact, what I just described is an entire industry! One that can be completely eliminated through a simple disclaimer. By signaling upfront that “We are advertising on this channel because you are here, not because we like this TV show,” companies can simply buy the ads that will drive the biggest return, resulting in more efficiency and more growth.

Ameliorate (or Even Satisfy) Consumers

In case you haven’t gathered, I think criticizing a company on its ad placements is silly. However, we cannot deny that these people do have the ability to influence the public’s perception of a company so it’s our job, as PR professionals, to satisfy their concerns. The beauty of this disclaimer is that it does just that. It satisfies ALL consumers – not just the ones on the side of the political argument you chose to take.

Eliminate Internal Conflict

When faced with a public problem, we PR people generally want to say as much as we can and apologize to every possible type of person who may have had a chance of being affected. On the other hand, legal departments exist to say as little as possible at all times. These two impulses are obviously contradictory, and that often leads to internal squabbles. By adopting this advertising disclaimer, PR will need to say less and legal will be happy.

Sure, at first there will be some people arguing that the disclaimer is a copout. They will write that organizations are taking the voice away from the consumer. But relatively quickly, and just like the hot coffee cups at McDonalds, others will start to say, “Wait, what are you complaining about?” By watching the channel, you are agreeing to be served ads. The ads are there because you are there. Period.

Paid media remains an integral component of an integrated, well-designed and -executed marketing and PR strategy.

It’s either use a disclaimer or start designing all products to withstand 40-foot drops and sledge hammers. In all seriousness, paid media remains an integral component of nearly every integrated, and well-designed and -executed marketing and PR strategy. Let’s protect ourselves – and the reputation of the brands we represent.
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As supervisor, Taylor converts ideas into results across Stern’s media relations, content marketing, book launch, and conference/speaking outreach competencies. He works with clients – from individual thought leaders to Fortune 500 companies in a spectrum of industries – to design and execute uniquely impactful communications programs tailored to meet their business needs. When he’s not at work, Taylor can be found surfing, snowboarding, or golfing.