With over a third of Australian consumers holding a brand responsible for the content it appears alongside, MediaBrands’ Hannah Rook outlines the steps that brands can take to deliver in-context and appropriate advertising.

In recent years, there have been several significant and beneficial industry developments in digital, in particular, programmatic advertising growth (the exponential rise of automation), and tighter controls and expectations on brand safety.

Despite this, what seems like optimum combination of high-level targeting capabilities, and extensive work into suppression and avoidance of unsafe or damaging online content, brands are still running the risk of appearing in inappropriate or unsuitable environments.

This can lead to serious consequences for both the brand and the consumer, and that’s why advertisers should take a closer look at where their advertising is appearing.

The content that falls outside of brand safety classification – so-called ‘grey content’ – can still have a less than desirable effect on a brand leading to a decrease in purchase intent (from 10% in a brand suitable environment to just 1% when grey – a drop of 9%). Coupled with an increased adoption of automated online buying, CMOs are often approaching their online campaigns unaware of the adverse effect they may be having on their brand.

We’ve all experienced this online. I, for one, have seen my five-year-old watch his favourite cartoon show only to see it interrupted by a retirement ad and it certainly brought home the importance of the power of placement.

Recent Australian research shows that when a brand considers the ‘suitability’ of its video ad placement within the online content environment in which it appears, a notable lift in performance is achieved.

It was noted that more than a third of Australian consumers (36%) were found to hold a brand responsible for the content it appears alongside, inferring a level of endorsement to the content itself. This no doubt can negatively impact a brand.

The research also revealed consumer expectations of the appropriateness of a brand’s placement varied by category type, not surprisingly toys and financial services were held to a higher level of scrutiny (consumers were found to be 26% more likely to find toy category placement inappropriate and 11% more likely to find placement inappropriate for financial services).

However, findings highlighted differences in consumer tolerance even within a category, indicating that a brand’s personality and values were an influencing factor for the consumer when deciding the appropriateness of placement.

With that in mind, it stands to reason that advertisers and agencies need to take a more proactive and comprehensive approach to brand safety, expanding their placement criteria to make better decisions and ensure their ads appear in appropriate and relevant environments.

Four steps to delivering in-context and appropriate advertising

Brands can take several simple steps to ensure their messages are delivered in a context that is relevant and appropriate.

  1. Be aware of content alignment expectations that consumers hold for your category vertical.
  2. Deep dive into your brand’s unique ‘suitability profile’ that will be guided based on brand personality and values.
  3. Test thresholds and the impact your proactive placement is having in market (tweak and adjust accordingly).
  4. Work with media partners that offer content transparency and appropriate controls for advertising placement, and utilise available technology to supercharge your targeting approach.

If CMOs were to consider these four relatively simple steps, they would be armed with the right information to find environments that reflect their brand’s personality, message, tone and desired audience profile (outside of pure demographic groupings).

This would create clear and consistent messaging in market that was more likely to resonate and engage their audience. Through better alignment with suitable content and a renewed focus on building a stronger connection, advertisers could protect brand reputation and build brand trust.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach

It’s exciting for marketers to realise this is not a one-size-fits-all approach and what may be deemed questionable content for one advertiser may present an opportunity for another. Online advertising is a complex and challenging task, so I would argue that aligning a brand with suitable content is something the industry needs to collaboratively work on addressing.

I’m sure advertisers would welcome more detailed content classifications to achieve purposeful placement. Yet currently adding these additional layers of targeting carries additional costs to the advertiser. Even if a brand was to recognise the benefit of this additional cost, current online reporting doesn’t effectively capture changes in brand metrics, therefore any upside would go unnoticed and unreported. 

Non-grey advertising is more effective

Despite this obvious barrier, content alignment and placement outside of a brand’s grey environments has been proven to achieve stronger messaging association and purchase intent highlights this disconnect. Results of the Australian research indicated ad placement within ‘suitable’ content achieved +10% purchase intent, as opposed to ads in grey content reaching only +1%  purchase intent. Message association in the same research highlighted +9% for ads placed in suitable content versus +6% of ads in grey content.

In future, I look forward to watching brands master the art of alignment – a move that would certainly help improve many people’s online user experience and also benefit advertisers’ outcomes.