Advertisers cannot be fence-sitters in today’s time: BBC’s Rahul Sood

There is a need to do a qualitative analysis of content and then advertise.

NEW DELHI: 2020 has been a wild year for the news industry. On the up side, viewership skyrocketed in the wake of Covid2019 pandemic; then again, it drew aggressive flak from viewers and advertisers alike for their reportage in a number of high-profile cases, including the Sushant Singh Rajput suicide. Adding to the woes of the industry was the TRP rigging scam, which left a bitter taste in the mouth of many.

Addressing all these issues and the grave concern of brand safety that has risen in these sensitive times in a chat with, BBC Global News MD - India and South Asia Rahul Sood shared that it is high for brands to stop sitting on the fence and take some concrete steps to ensure they are not placing their products with any content they wouldn’t want to be associated with. 

He said, “I am happy that there are a few advertisers like Parle, who have taken this conscious call of taking out their ads from problematic channels. But there is still a lot of work to be done in that area. I think it’s time that advertisers start putting their money where their mouths are. The industry doesn’t need more fence-sitters as silence means compliance. This really needs to change.”

Sood added that media planners and marketers, who are the prime brand custodians, should really ponder whether they want to support the misogyny, communalism, and baseless stories that most news channels are propagating these days. “If they can’t let their children watch those channels, how can they advertise on them?” 

On being asked whether TRPs are to be blamed for most of the advertisers still being cautious about taking their investments out of news channels, Sood noted that TRP numbers are not anyway reflective of the true set of audience interest, especially for English news channels. 

“There are 120-odd boxes placed in some remote households, which anyway doesn’t have the audience for English news. And then with the TRP rigging scam, we saw that even that data is not authentic,” he quipped. 

Sood insisted that advertisers should instead rely on currencies like subscriptions on a particular channel or website, their social media handles, and the sort of discussions that are happening online on one’s content to decide where they want to invest. 

He continued, “There is also a need to do a qualitative analysis of one channel’s content and then advertise there.”

So, how’s BBC ensuring that brands find a safe environment at the network to publish their content?

“There is a very stringent advertising compliance policy that we have in place at the BBC. To add to that, our 100-year-old legacy is proof of the sort of content we create and brands can see that,” Sood explained. He also added that they are strictly against signing “private treaties” with brands. 

“We are also very particular about what ads we put on our channel. For example, we will not run any ads of fairness creams, any brand communication that is racist, communal, or misogynist. We have stopped running ads of fossil brands taking cognisance of climate change. We also do not allow any individual to utilise a government platform to appear larger than life and promote himself/herself on our channels,” he elaborated. 

Sood also addressed the recent Tanishq controversy and said that brands will need to stand up for themselves and not give in to bullies. 

“I have friends in Pakistan, who used to tell me that they look up to India for the kind of social fabric we have, the sovereignty we display. But after the Tanishq controversy, he called me up and said ‘tum bhi hamare jaise nikle yaar…’ (‘you are also like us’). It is very embarrassing. I think, what is going on right now, and not just in India but in many other countries too, that the people in power are dog-whistling. They will divert the attention of people to things like this to stop them from focusing on the real issues,” he said. 

However, he is not without hope that the current situation with several brands taking the call of removing ads from controversial channels will start a course correction within the industry. 

“There is a grave deficit of trust and credibility and decaying of truth right now and I am hopeful that this will change with more brands and advertisers standing up against the content that certain channels are spewing these days. I wish there is more news and less noise and credibility in the media's work, going ahead,” he signed off. 

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