Brand safety is one of the top concerns for the advertising industry, but just how seriously the issue should be taken is reinforced by a new survey that found many consumers regard the placement of ads next to non-safe content as intentional.

That in turn has major consequences for brands because consumers who assume non-safe ads are intentional say they are nearly three times (2.8x) less willing to associate with the offending brand.

And even when an ad does not appear to be deliberately placed amongst negative content, consumers still react badly as they raise questions about a brand’s trustworthiness and reputation.

These are some of the key findings from a new study, entitled The Brand Safety Effect, which is based on a survey of more than 2,000 consumers and is said to be the first to measure and quantify the exact impact of negative ad placement.

The research was carried out by global cybersecurity firm CHEQ in association with Magna, the intelligence and innovation unit of IPG Mediabrands, along with IPG Media Lab and German automaker BMW.

Survey participants were shown sample ads across three different types of negative content – generally unsafe content, such as a school shooting; brand-averse content, such as a BMW ad placed next to a story about a car crash; and vertical-averse content, such as a soda ad alongside content about diabetes.

Feedback indicated that many consumers do not view these placements as accidental, with some even accusing brands of being “manipulative” or “exploiting shock value”.

And in addition to the finding that consumers become 2.8x less willing to associate with a brand if they think the negative ad placements are intentional, two-thirds who had indicated high purchase intent for a specific brand go on to say they would be less likely to do so in future.

Furthermore, these consumers are 4.5x more likely to feel an offending brand does not care about them and are 3x more likely to feel the brand “isn’t in the know”.

The survey also revealed that even when an ad is placed next to content that is generally safe, if that content clashes with the brand or vertical, there is a 22% decline in trust in the brand and a 19% drop in perceptions of its quality and reputation.

Commenting on the findings, Joshua Lowcock, global brand safety officer at UM Worldwide, part of IPG Mediabrands, said: “Our joint research with CHEQ shows that most consumers believe there are no mistakes in advertising, meaning that if an ad runs next to violent and/or offensive content, for example, they assume the brand deliberately placed it there and is in some way endorsing the content.

“Brands need to be aware that blindly following a customer or chasing media price efficiency can have devastating effects on the long-term health of their brands.”

Sourced from CHEQ, Magna, IPG Media Lab, BMW; additional content by WARC staff