How the Advertising Industry Can Really Help Ukraine

A look at initiatives and actions advertisers can take to help the humanitarian relief effort

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We’ve all felt utterly helpless staring at our TV screens over the last few weeks at what is happening in Ukraine. But there are things Adland can be doing to help.

As the war and humanitarian crisis continue to unfold there, it’s become apparent this war is not only being fought on the ground but also online, as propaganda, disinformation and fear fill our screens and capture our attention.

It means our wallets, our brands and our voices all matter. Here are some of the important things that the advertising industry can do right now to have a real—if small—impact at this terrible time.


Advertising money funds digital media, so managing our ad spend is the primary responsibility of everybody in our industry right now.

Quick to move on this one, ad tech companies, including Google and Extreme Reach, have shut down ad serving and ad delivery to Russia-affiliated sites such as Russia Today and RT America. Brands across the world need to follow this lead, urgently reviewing their publisher block lists to prevent any monetization of state-sponsored propaganda.

Take a moment to also consider how your block list might be detrimentally impacting those news outlets that we do need to support right now. Blocking terms like “war” and “invasion” is a natural knee-jerk reaction—especially if you wish to avoid an Applebee’s situation—but with the thoughtful, relevant creative in place, you should be proud to have your brand funding quality, independent journalism. So work with premium publishers and your ad tech partners to ensure you are sensitively funding some of the most important coverage.

At the same time, it’s important brands use their buying power to put pressure on social media platforms, cracking down on state-sponsored propaganda being promoted or amplified.

Any brand looking for more guidance around disinformation can talk to Check My Ads, a not-for-profit watchdog that does fantastic work in this space.


Much like the stopped watch that’s right twice a day—opaque ad tech is finally having its moment in the sun.

Thanks to the many layers of obfuscation and complexity that can sit between an advertiser and the website their ad eventually appears on, an anonymous group of volunteers—led by industry veteran Rob Blackie—is using programmatic ad buying to bypass Russian and Belarusian censorship protocols.

Backed by a crowdfunding campaign, the team is buying digital inventory with headlines such as “What’s happening in Ukraine?” inviting locals to install a VPN or click through to independent news sources. So far, thanks to some tenacious media buying strategies, the campaign has reached more than two million people in Russia and led 42,000 people to click through and find out more.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian arm of the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) has been running ad campaigns across Russia and beyond. Working tirelessly from their bunkers and safe houses, more than 50 Ukrainian advertising agencies have signed up so far.

For those businesses without a direct link to the situation, avoid token gestures. Don’t just post on Instagram or create a new Pantone color.

—Amy Williams, CEO, Good-Loop

One such campaign targeted Russian mothers, encouraging them to check on sons who might have been drafted to fight in a war they don’t even know about. This endeavor is complemented by a program running on the encrypted messenger app, Telegram, allowing Russian families to post the names of missing soldiers. The app is supported by Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, and Ukraine has even offered to free Russian captives if their mothers travel to collect them—further dismantling the Kremlin’s wall of lies and disinformation.

Independent reporting has now been criminalized within Russia and journalists face up to 15 years in prison if they even use the word “war.” Given this context, with everything from Twitter to the BBC blocked, online advertising space is perhaps one of their last remaining windows to the outside world.


Great brands lead the public discourse, and the Ukrainian people deserve our allyship.

To show authentic leadership at this time, it’s important for a business to consider where and how it can most meaningfully offer support. For example, the Airbnb brand is all about helping people belong anywhere, so to offer that same dignity to refugees is a natural and rather touching extension of their mission. It’s similarly fitting that Microsoft has offered malware defense support to Ukrainian intelligence officials, Ryanair has filled their cargo hold with humanitarian supplies and Elon Musk has made his Starlink satellite internet system available across the region.

And remember, actions don’t have to be big to be meaningful. U.K. retailer Sainsbury’s renamed its chicken Kiev to the Ukrainian spelling Kyiv recently. They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and as a food retailer, this is a small and effective way for Sainsbury’s to bring home the message of Russian repression—highlighting how so much of the Ukrainian narrative has been told through a Russian lens.

For those businesses without a direct link to the situation, avoid token gestures. Don’t just post on Instagram or create a new Pantone color. The most meaningful thing these businesses can do is fund expert NGOs—such as the Disasters Emergency Committee and refugee support groups—and support their own people, as Publicis has done by guaranteeing the salaries of all 350 Ukrainian employees for the rest of the year.

Research by Edelman’s Trust Barometer found the public trusts brands more than governments—a trend that has been massively accelerated by the pandemic. This trust is earned, and easily lost, so delivering decisive, meaningful help should be a top priority for your business right now.

So let’s harness our money, information and influence

It’s heart-breaking and disempowering to watch things unfold in Ukraine. Of course, all of the actions listed above are small in the face of such huge loss and devastation. But humanity is at its best when we all deploy our unique skills in unison, harnessing the powers at our disposal, limited as they may be.

Let’s mobilize the billion-dollar ad spend, the global reach and the significant cultural clout within our industry, and let’s consider—if advertising is an amp, how can we urgently give Ukrainian people the mic?