Details of Christine O’Donnell’s lack of discretion—and grooming—is resulting in a traffic explosion for Gawker. But the gossip-fueled site isn’t likely to see much of a financial benefit, as it preemptively yanked down all advertising from the racy O’Donnell piece.
According to sales chief Chris Batty, when Gawker Media knows it has a bombshell story—like Deadspin’s recent Brett Farve penis-revealing piece—it has become standard practice to remove all advertising ahead of time to avoid any screaming calls from advertisers.
“It’s an easy financial decision, and it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “Even if a brand is risk-loving, it doesn’t mean they are interested in being associated with this controversy.”
Controversy is putting it mildly. The item on Gawker, “I Had A One-Night Stand With Christine O’Donnell,” paints the abstinence-preaching Delaware senatorial candidate as a lusty, cradle-robbing party girl. Even brands that know what they are getting into advertising on the always-edgy Gawker are unlikely to touch that one—even if the article has generated 700,000 views alone in roughly 24 hours.
“There are certain advertisers that are willing to run in risky areas,” said one buyer. “But this is like the perfect storm of controversy. You have politics, gender issues, privacy issues. This was a really smart move for Gawker to pull its ads down.”
“This shouldn’t shock any advertisers,” added Greg March, group media director at Wieden + Kennedy. “If you are an agency and your recommend Gawker, you should pick the worst thing they’ve ever published and put that in your deck and say, ‘Are we sure we’re all OK with this?’”
Advertisers are still running on other sections of Gawker, including a big campaign from AMC for its new series The Walking Dead. But even putting the O’Donnell firestorm aside, there would be little benefit to any of Gawker’s 100-plus advertisers to ride the O’Donnell traffic wave, since many brands don’t want to exhaust all of their inventory in one or two days.
“We’ve just gotten a lot smarter about handling these things over the last couple of years,” Batty said. “This is not going to solve any inventory issues.”
However, might an advertiser who has bought Gawker specifically for its buzz feel slighted in this situation? Especially if they have a timely message like the premiere of a new show? Maybe, says March. “The flip-side of something like this is that nobody sees your ad if half of the traffic is going to one story. Who knows? Maybe AMC feels like they are getting hosed.”
AMC execs were unavailable for comment.