CMO Council Brand Safety Report: How Digital Ads Damage Brands

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The CMO Council report How Brands Annoy Fans

A new study by The Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council, finds that almost half (48%) of all consumers would rethink purchasing brands or would boycott products whose ads appear alongside digital content that offends or concerns them.

In addition, the CMO Council’s new report on consumers and digital advertising (called “How Brands Annoy Fans“) finds that people are eschewing even their preferred brands if those brands stray from trusted media platforms, or don’t take active steps to control the integrity of their ad environments.

Based on a poll of 2,000 consumers across North America and the UK, this is the first report in the council’s “Brand Protection from Digital Content Infection” program, in partnership with Dow Jones.

The impetus for the study: how programmatic media buying has led digital ads to wind up on untrustworthy, if not downright offensive, websites and social media channels.

As the report notes, “This technology-driven ad buying process has resulted in notable, image-sensitive ads for brands appearing within or alongside o ensive rich media content, fake news, as well as non-contextual and inappropriate online channels.”

The CMO Council report - How Brands Annoy Fans - digital advertising and fake news

The authors raise an alarm bell that CMOs have been hearing coming: “The desire to advertise where consumers are active online has led to a rise in spend for programmatic ads to 80 percent of digital ad budgets—or an estimated $33 billion—in the past year. But exposure to uncontrolled and sometimes objectionable content environments has led to high-profiile campaign cancellations by major advertisers and triggered concern for brand safety among leading CMOs.”

The concern is that the sheer proximity to (or perceived association with) hateful, distressing or brand-contradictory content can undermine a brand, no matter how selective an ad is determined to be in isolation. And being caught in an unsafe digital environment can have lasting repercussions for a brand and even its most loyal fans.

Among the many factors irking consumers, the report identifies social media platforms as among the least-trusted among the top five media channels, despite delivering the second most ad messages. 63% of people surveyed said they would respond more positively to the same ads on established media channels, an interesting finding in this age of fake news and media trust.

In fact, surveyed consumers ranked social media last among their five most trusted channels, following friends, TV, search engines and newspapers, all of which they considered more trustworthy sources than something they might see on Twitter or Snapchat.

In addition to trust what their friends tell them over what they see on social media, 60 percent of those surveyed said that “offensive context” (dubious or downright offensive sources) had already caused them “to consume more content from trusted, well-known news sources and established media channels.”

Two-thirds of respondents also said they would hold a dimmer view of brands that delivered such “negative advertising experiences.”

The takeways for brands and CMOs?

“CMOs and brand advertisers are increasingly concerned about various aspects of digital and programmatic advertising, including concerns about their ads showing up next to offensive content,” said Donovan Neale-May, executive director of the CMO Council. “This consumer survey demonstrates that those concerns are well-founded. Advertising placed next to objectionable content is damaging to a brand, while ads that accompany more trusted content and media are more accepted. ”

Using the Pollfish platform, the CMO Council queried 2,000 adults in North America and the UK because those are the regions where fake campaigns and hateful content have appeared all too frequently over in this politicized past year.

Case in point: Digital ads for Chevrolet Canada’s #CanadianDream campaign celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday turned up on “The Rebel,” a Canadian alt-right website espousing views quite the opposite to the campaign’s message of inclusion, diversity and liberalism, prompting this tweet from a consumer watchdog group:

Misfired creative and media buys have prompted P&G CMO Marc Pritchard to become a vocal critic of problems with digital advertising. “We have seen an exponential increase in, well … crap. Craft or crap? Technology enables both and all too often, the outcome has been more crappy advertising accompanied by even crappier viewing experiences,” Pritchard said, calling for digital ads to be improved. “Is it any wonder ad blockers are growing (in use by consumers) 40 percent?”

More than 50 percent of respondents in the CMO Council survey said they already have, or plan to install, ad blocking software on their phones or computers.

As for the consequences of brand ads in proximity to objectionable content or fake news sites, 37 percent of consumers said it would “change the way (they) think of a brand when making a decision to buy,” and another 11 percent said they would flat-out “not do business with that brand.” Nine percent said they would become vocal critics of such brands.

Other key insights from the report include:

· 86 percent of consumers are either extremely concerned, very concerned or moderately worried about how easily they are directed or redirected to hateful or offensive content
· The most annoying digital advertising formats, even when appearing on trusted media channels, were intrusive pop-up ads (22 percent) and auto-playing video ads (17 percent)
· Attention to digital advertising overall was low, with only 14 percent always engaged, and 58 percent saying they pay attention only when ads either “interest me” or are “really interesting”
· Just over 40 percent of consumers have already installed ad-blocking software on their devices, while another 13.7 percent said they planned to add these features.

Maria Pousa, CMO for Integral Ad Science (IAS) identified the most prevalent categories of risk in the U.S. were violent, adult or offensive language content, followed by issues like hate speech and illegal downloads.

According to the most recent Media Quality Report by IAS, 8.6 percent of digital display ads in the U.S. turned up on content flagged as posing a moderate or high risk to brand reputation.

As the CMO Council concludes to its new report, “Strong consumer reactions uncovered in this report demonstrate the clear imperative that brands should be concerned with their digital ad placement and must take steps to protect and safeguard their brands through more diligent digital advertising science and choices.”

Watch for more to follow, too:

“This summer, we will release the final research product, which will further investigate the subject, including findings from a global survey of marketers and advertisers, as well as qualitative discussions with domain experts and large advertisers, including Morgan Stanley, Procter & Gamble, Reebok, United Rentals and Vera Bradley. The research will explore marketers’ concerns regarding digital ad content compromises, plans to safeguard their brands and best practice approaches to assuring brand integrity in digital ad buys.”

The CMO Council’s 12,500-plus members control more than $500 billion in aggregated annual marketing expenditures and their reach is to 30,000 global executives in more than 110 countries across multiple industries, segments and markets.

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