The Drum Awards Festival - Extended Deadline

-d -h -min -sec

Future of Media Reach Media

Marketers overly worried about brand safety on news sites, says study


By John McCarthy, Opinion editor

January 21, 2021 | 4 min read

Research from news publisher Reach claims that the risk of brand safety issues on trusted news sites has been overstated.


Marketers overly worried about brand safety on news sites, says study

Marketers have grappled brand safety fears since 2017, when many learned they were directly funding Isis via sites like YouTube. Blunt brand safety measures were then favored. Generally, they‘d block ads from appearing next to web pages containing terms like ‘terror‘, which inadvertently demonetised hard news stories on the same subject.

‘In Safe Hands’ from Reach Solutions looks to assuage those fears.

Perception of news, UCG and social

  • To understand how ads interact with a range of brand-safe stories, Reach logged the reactions of Mirror, Express and Star readers, as well as 900 readers of a mocked-up news site. It questioned whether advertisers need to tread carefully around discussions on race, gender and more in the trusted news environment.

  • Reach asked people where they expected to see bad things – ie things you’d expect to see in most marketers’ brand safety no-go lists.

  • 73% said they expect to see unreliable content on social media, 43% on user-generated content video sites and 19% on news sites.

  • 52% said they expect to see violent content on social media, 44% on user-generated content video sites and 9% on news sites.

  • 59% said they expect to see shocking content on social media, 47% on user-generated content video sites and just 14% on news sites.

  • Although editorial standards should elevate content above the open web and user-generated content, mistakes are made – for example, the Christchurch massacre video was published by some elements of the press.

Brand safety

  • Respondents were twice as likely to associate advertisers on news sites with quality, trustworthiness and reliability than they were advertisers on social media or UGC video sites.

  • ’Intense’ content was more than twice as likely to spark anger and disgust when compared to low-intensity content. The emotion didn’t hugely impact the advertiser. ”Emotions felt towards the advertiser brands were almost identical regardless of content intensity.” There was a ”negligible” difference in brand perception.

  • The benefit isn’t enjoyed across the board. On a mock-up news site called Circulate, ”ads next to the same ‘unsafe’ story in Circulate prompted twice as much negative emotions towards the brand than when compared with Reach websites”.

What Reach says

Andrew Tenzer, director of market insights and brand strategy at Reach Solutions, claims this is “irrefutable evidence” that “quality environments matter just as much, if not more so, when it comes to brand safety”. When it comes to news environment, the bigger concern should be the where the ad is running, rather than what it is running against.

Sarah Frost, insight manager at Reach Solutions, says: ”We’ve found that advertising is equally effective when shown next to content that would normally be blocked as long as it is in a trusted news environment. This is a major eye-opener for marketeers and opens up huge swathes of digital inventory to advertisers.”

With many titles pivoting back to paid models, and the future of online advertising seemingly still being formed, advertisers are rethinking their relationship with news brands. Keyword blocking around Covid-19 deprived UK titles of tens of millions of much-needed revenue at the same time media staff were being furloughed.

You can read the rest of the study here.

Future of Media Reach Media

More from Future of Media

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +