Brands may think their ad’s adjacency to harmful online content may not consciously register with news consumers (although it can lead to unintended associations made by readers that steer them away from the brands involved), but according to new research from the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) and Brand Safety Institute (BSI), consumers indeed have a nuanced appreciation of the complexities of the brand safety decisions faced by advertisers.
For example, instead of blocking controversial news content, 40 percent of consumers said all news content should be appropriate for ads, and the remainder differentiated between stories involving violence and death and those about policy, societal changes, and peaceful protests on the same issues.
In addition, consumers defined the issue of brand safety broadly, including not only inappropriate ad placements but also ad-related malware and ads placed near pirated content.
The historic confluence of inflammatory events over the last year—from COVID-19 to racial justice protests, the nation’s economic crisis, and election controversies—appears to have dramatically elevated consumer focus on brand safety issues, with 83 percent of respondents saying they were more aware of brand safety issues than they were a year ago.
Notably, 40 percent of respondents said all news coverage should be appropriate for ads
“The past year has been a witches’ brew of toxic brand safety challenges across public health, economic, and political topics, and—happily—this survey showed the success of our industry’s efforts to set higher standards and professionalize the field of brand safety,” said Mike Zaneis, CEO of the TAG and co-founder of BSI, in a news release. “Rather than clumsy and narrow traditional approaches that focused on specific keywords or solely on ad adjacency, we are now looking holistically at these challenges in a nuanced, consumer-centric way.”
Among other findings of the survey:
- The large majority of respondents (87 percent) said it is very or somewhat important for advertisers to make sure their ads don’t appear near dangerous, offensive, or inappropriate content.
- An overwhelming majority said they would reduce their spending on a product they regularly buy that appeared near offensive, illegal, or dangerous content, including Nazi propaganda (86 percent), terrorist recruiting videos (90 percent), pirated content (83 percent), or malware (92 percent).
- Among potential topics of brand-unsafe content, consumers are most strongly opposed to ads running near the “fearsome four” of hate speech (74 percent), pornography (68 percent), violence (63 percent), and illegal drugs (68 percent).
- Consumers define brand safety broadly, including ad-related piracy and malware, with more than half saying that advertisers should prevent their ads from running near stolen/pirated movies or TV shows (54 percent) and unsafe or hacked/unsafe websites (66 percent).
- Respondents felt that responsibility for brand safety is broadly shared across the ad tech ecosystem with 66 percent assigning responsibility to the advertiser, 59 percent to the ad agency, 42 percent to the website owner, and 59 percent to the technology provider.
- The vast majority of consumers (85 percent) said they would feel more positive about a company that required all of its ad partners to be independently certified to meet high safety standards for its ads.
“Brand safety is an issue of consumer perception, and this survey highlighted how nuanced consumers have become in their evaluation of brand risks,” said Neal Thurman, co-founder of BSI, in the release. “On topic after topic, consumers differentiated between more controversial news coverage and related topics they felt were appropriate for advertising with a significant plurality saying all news coverage should be cleared for ads. Similarly, consumers looked beyond traditional content issues to include other risks like malvertising and digital piracy in their evaluation of brand safety.”
In September, TAG launched the ad industry’s first global brand safety certification program with more than 110 major companies participating at launch, including Amazon, Facebook, Google, GroupM, Havas, Kroger, Omnicom Media Group, Twitter, and Walmart. The program sets rigorous standards for companies across the supply chain to demonstrate their commitment to brand safety.
The results of this year’s survey are consistent with findings from a survey conducted on similar topics by TAG and BSI last year.
The survey of 1,143 adults in the United States was conducted via SurveyMonkey from November 28-29, 2020. The survey had a margin of error of +/-3 percent at a 95 percent confidence interval.