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Marketers need to steer brands towards more trusted media platforms to prevent consumer backlash

Brands can come under fire in the digital ad age

Unsuspecting brands who find their ads on offensive websites or untrustworthy news sites are increasingly looking to marketers and ad agencies to be more vigilant as their concern over the integrity of the content environment persists.

The importance of being in tune with ones client and their brand is highlighted today with the publication of a survey by the CMO Council, in partnership with Dow Jones, of 2,000 consumers who say they are willing to “vote with their feet” and defect from brands who fail to control where their ads appear.

“The premise of the study reflects our long-held belief that marketers have to be in tune with their brand,” said Liz Miller, senior vice president of marketing at the CMO Council. “What sparked our interest in doing the study was basically the last Presidential election. We learned that brands were complaining when, for example, they discovered their ads were being featured on publications like Brietbart. They were experiencing backlash from consumers. Brietbart subscribes to a Google Ad network and if there is ad space, than a brand ad may appear there. Marketers and agencies need to work together more when it comes to where ads are being placed and look at more trusted sources.

The report found that 66% of consumers say their respect for brands decreases when they encounter ads near hateful, inappropriate or distressing content with one third of consumers believing that brands actually endorse the negative content that shares a page with their ads.

Consumers agreed that they would consider defecting from brands found near content they view as objectionable or offensive with 37% of those surveyed saying the experience could affect their purchase decisions, and a further 10.5% noting they might boycott products outright. Still another nine percent said they would complain to the brand.

“Digital advertising has been somewhat like the Wild West and we have to return to a point where advertising is more strategic,” Miller said. “This is a premium that a customer expects.”

Further, the study suggests that 85% of consumers are either very concerned about how easily they are directed or redirected to offensive or objectionable sites. And, they expect their preferred brands do a better job in preventing their ads from following the same path.

The CMO council also conducted interviews with leading advertisers and brand safety vendors to be included in an upcoming report. Executives interviewed for the report revealed that the threat goes beyond offensive and objectionable content - and that event content that simply contradicts or jars with a company’s particular brand value represents a major concern and a more common risk.

As an example, industrial equipment and tool rental company United Rentals told the CMO council that because their core message of the brand is “physical safety” - they would strongly avoid ad placement near content showing dangerous or reckless behavior with equipment.

Chris Hummel, CMO at United Rentals says that with clearly articulated values a company can limit the risk - and also boost threat detection - of ‘content contamination.’

“Thousands of brand ambassadors for United solve the problem of context and controversy that even advanced artificial intelligence tools struggle to solve - and that many will write in on private channels or on the company social media page to alert excutives to jarring or inappropriate content associated with their brand.”

“Despite being a low-volume advertiser and a highly trusted brand, United had a high level of concern for digital content contamination,” Hummel said.

Other key insights from the CMO Council survey include revealing that the most annoying digital advertising formats, even when appearing on trusted media channels, were intrusive pop-up ads (22%) and auto-playing video ads (17%).

Further, attention to digital advertising overall was notably low, with only 14% saying they were always engaged and 58% saying they pay attention only when ads either interest them or are really interesting.

Additionally, just over 40% of consumers have already installed ad-blocking software on their devices while another 14% said they planned to add these features.

“CMOs and brand advertisers are increasingly concerned about aspects of digital and programmatic advertising,” noted Donovan Neale-May, executive director of the CMO Council. “Advertising placed next to objectionable content is damaging to a brand, while ads that accompany more trusted content and media are more accepted.”

See The Drum's dedicated digital advertising news feed for more related content.

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Laurie Fullerton

Laurie Fullerton is a writer based in Boston, MA with a background in business, sports, community, medical and travel writing. She has been a newspaper editor in the Boston-area, a sports writer covering yacht racing and a community reporter. She has been reporting for The Drum since October 2015.

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