New study supports marketer concerns about online brand safety

Brands are just one misplaced ad away from having customers reduce spending on their product or abandon it altogether, according to a new report from the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) and Brand Safety Institute (BSI).

The survey of 1,017 U.S. consumers found they also tend to have a broad definition of brand safety, from ads appearing near inappropriate content such as pornography and violence, to content promoting piracy and malware.

The survey findings underscore the “real and measurable risk” to companies stemming from an unexpected brand safety crisis, said Mike Zaneis, CEO of TAG and co-founder of BSI. TAG is a cross-industry organization formed by the American Association of Advertising Agencies, Association of National Advertisers and Interactive Advertising Bureau, with a mandate to clean up the digital advertising ecosystem.

“While reputational harm can be hard to measure, consumers said that they plan to vote with their wallets if brands fail to take the necessary steps to protect their supply chain from risks such as hate speech, malware, and piracy,” said Zaneis in a release.

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Source: Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) and Brand Safety Institute (BSI).

Brand safety has emerged as a key consideration for brands in the digital era, with countless companies—including Mars, Diageo, Disney and Adidas—all forced to deal with fallout from their ads appearing in unsafe environments.

The user-generated nature of YouTube content—which sees a reported 400 minutes of content uploaded every minute—has led Google executives to concede that the video sharing site will never be 100% brand safe.

And several brands including AT&T hit pause on YouTube earlier this year following reports that pedophiles were using the comments section to facilitate what was described as a “soft-core pedophile ring.”

In a statement to The Message at the time, YouTube said that it is “99% effective” at ensuring that ads appear in only appropriate environments, and that it takes instances where they don’t “very seriously.”

Asif Din, digital strategy director with Horizon Media Canada, says the findings underscore the importance of brand safety measures when planning and buying media. “Working with trusted brand safety partners to ensure alignment with safe content is quickly becoming table stakes in the media space, and is the responsibility of all parties to monitor and enforce,” he says.

Hate speech, pornographic content and unsafe/hacked websites were the most commonly cited examples of online environments that brands should be vigilant about avoiding, cited by 73% of consumers. Violent content was cited by 70% of respondents, while 69% said brands should prevent ads from running near illegal drug-related content.

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Source: Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) and Brand Safety Institute (BSI).

Presented with a series of hypothetical scenarios, 87% of respondents said they would reduce their spending on a product they regularly buy if one of its ads appeared next to Neo-Nazi propaganda, while 58% said they would stop buying it altogether.

Another 82% indicated that they would reduce their spending on the product if they encountered its ads on a site promoting illegal activities such as stolen videos and other content, while 45% indicated that they would stop buying it altogether.

And if they discovered ads running next to terrorist recruiting videos, 90% of respondents said they would reduce spending on the advertised product, while 67% said they would stop buying it completely.

Asked who should be responsible for ensuring that ads do not run alongside objectionable content, 70% of respondents named the advertiser, 68% named the ad agency, 61% named the website owner, and 46% named the technology provider.

“Accountability is important for brands,” says Nileen Ventura, vice-president of channel insights and discovery with Horizon Media Canada. “From consumers’ perspective, every level of interaction with a brand is intentional. They will not be privy to the ‘accidental’ impression served to them on an unsafe environment/content.

“Instead, all they see is a brand’s message intended for them. Thus, as per the survey, they hold all parties within a brand’s ecosystem accountable.”

BSI co-founder Neal Thurman said that the survey results indicated a “nuanced understanding” of brand safety risks. “While accidental ad placement around criminal activity has been widely covered in the media, consumers recognized that brand safety concerns extends to a full spectrum of more subjective topics,” he said. “They also assigned responsibility for brand safety across the supply chain, including not only the advertisers, but also agencies, publishers, and ad tech providers.”

Chris Powell