Brands need to be careful what digital content they’re appearing next to, says Channel Factory’s Rob Blake. Get it wrong and your message is less likely to stick.

Brand reputation and trust are increasingly important to customers. A recent study by MAGNA Media Trials in partnership with Channel Factory found that consumers are looking for brands that align with their values and beliefs, making brand perception an integral part of the marketing strategy.

Whether a brand is advertised on television, news sites, social media platforms or print media, it sends a message to the target audience about the company’s values, goals and key audience. With this in mind, placement speaks volumes. For example, a luxury brand advertising on a mass-market channel may suggest it’s accessible and affordable rather than high-end.

The study looked closely at the ‘grey areas’ of advertising and how misaligned video advertising content can significantly impact brand perception. Across all three markets considered, the research found that almost half of all participants hold brands accountable for any content they appear adjacent to (49% UK, 41% US and 36% Australia).

As brand visibility increases and companies are more exposed to the public, consumers become increasingly aware of brand images. So, if brands produce ads that do not align with the values they demonstrate in other experiences and communications, it erodes the trustworthiness and reputation of the brand.

Exploring misaligned content

It’s important that brands are aware of what type of content they are in close proximity to when running digital advertising campaigns to maintain brand health – and such knowledge is a clear sign that a brand is taking brand alignment seriously.

To uncover how people felt about ads and measure marketers’ KPIs, we ran a 15-second pre-roll ad test across the mobile version of a renowned social media video app. Post-exposure surveys gave us an in-depth look into audiences’ reactions – giving valuable data to businesses seeking meaningful insights on their branding strategies.

The results highlighted that when content is questionable, it prevents a brand’s message from sticking. Persuasion metrics also take a hit, particularly among Gen Z adults and Millennials as purchase intent decreased by 6% for Gen Z and 8% for Millennials globally when the brand ran ads against questionable content vs. standard content.

Brands can inadvertently compromise their values if they advertise on news sites with a breadth of content, some of which may be insensitive or inappropriate. Racism, sexism and violent video game footage are just some examples that could leave businesses misaligned to the narrative they have built.

Brands placed near said content could imply that the brand is associated with or condones these messages. In the same way, if brands are placed near articles expressing a strong political agenda, brands risk alienating target audiences that hold a different viewpoint. In turn, this could lead to significant consequences for brands and their reputation, and decrease brand loyalty in one fell swoop.

Using the right type of tools

In an effort to maintain brand integrity, brands have long considered using tools to personalise the advertising experience and provide targeted offers and recommendations. Block lists are valuable tools for protecting brands from appearing alongside certain types of content, especially as brand loyalty becomes a key indicator of success in an ever-expanding digital world.

However, block lists can be a double-edged sword and may have unintended consequences and hinder brands from reaching users interested in their products or services. For example, suppose brands block a news site that is popular with its target audience, it may miss out on the opportunity to reach those users, limiting its ability to generate leads and connect with its audience.

Instead, brands should lean on inclusion lists that carefully consider the keywords, sites, topics and other contextual modifiers they want to target to ensure that ads only appear in media where it is contextually relevant and appropriate for the brand. To make sure nothing slips through, they need to audit all content across digital platforms and analyse audience demographics, behaviours and interests that can negatively affect impressions; plus keep an eye on any industry-level changes.

Finding the right content for your brand

Exploring the grey areas of content in online advertising yielded powerful insights. What’s deemed appropriate for one brand may not be for another. It’s no surprise then that our study revealed varying views on appropriateness based on brands’ products and services.

It’s clear that brands must navigate the complex interplay of laws, regulations and social perception to create successful ad campaigns. They must dig a little deeper by looking at their values, ethos and mission and remain conscious of the social norms, cultural values, and standards that exist to build a trustworthy reputation and show their commitment to being socially responsible.