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What marketers need to know about the impact of negative digital advertising experiences on their brands

June 21, 2017 | By Tim Bourgeois, Partner—East Coast Catalyst @ChiefDigOfficer

Programmatic advertising will account for 80% of all digital display advertising in 2017. However, this technology-driven ad buying process has seemingly created as many problems at it’s solved, in the forms of both wasted ad spend and brand risk exposure. In response, CMOs are taking steps to protect and safeguard their brands by reducing spend in certain digital channels until better controls and compliance measures are in place.

With all of the talk over the past couple of years about ad fraud and compromised viewability rates, we as an industry have sort of overlooked the implications of online advertisements that are seen, but in sub-optimal settings. That is to say: How are consumer behaviors impacted when they interact with ads in an unseemly or unexpected context? (Example: a banner ad layered over a hate group recruiting video on YouTube.) Marketers need to understand the impact of these negative advertising experiences.

This issue, to be sure, has been a persistent problem for advertisers since the early days of the business. One needs to look no further than Harry Crane (Rich Sommer) of Mad Men’s Sterling Cooper agency. They launched the firm’s new television department and charged it with monitoring a client’s ad buy just as the medium took off. Fans of the show quickly learned what media buyers the world over already know: Advertisers do not appreciate their promotions running anywhere but in the slots they’ve approved.

Managing this challenge across the digital channel has been a problem since the first banner ad was sold in the early 2000s. And it has only worsened in the wake of programmatic. To date, this issue has evaded intense scrutiny because the digital channel is some much more cost effective than its offline counterparts. But, as advertising economics continue to evolve and companies become smarter about managing a multi-channel environment, brand safety in the digital channel is gaining steam.

Leading this movement’s charge are private companies such as Integral Ad Science and industry organizations like the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and and CMO Council. Indeed, digital marketing auditing is emerging as a cottage industry unto itself as advertisers are becoming more aware of inefficiencies in the channel. 

To that end, this month, the CMO Council released a report titled “How Brands Annoy Fans: The Impact of Negative Advertising Experiences,” which explains the steep consequences associated with ads running in undesirable places.

Here’s what you need to know about the findings:
  • Almost half of survey respondents say they would consider defecting from brands who fail to control where their ads appear. This suggests that marketers should be “deeply concerned” over the integrity of content environments.
  • 66% of those surveyed say their respect for brands decreases when they encounter ads near hateful, inappropriate, or distressing content.
  • Where an ad runs is just as important as its message. And consumers seem less likely to give their preferred brands “a pass” for appearing in inappropriate environments or next to jarring content.
  • 85% of those surveyed expressed some level of concern about how easily they are directed or redirected to offensive or objectionable sites.
  • According to publishers, consumers are actively contacting them to ask if their properties endorse certain content, given their stated values.
  • With increasing fervor, consumers are demanding that brands respect their time and their messages appear in environments they trust.

The bottom line: Context matters. All parties in the digital advertising ecosystem must ensure that great advertising experiences are delivered in equally excellent environments.


Tim Bourgeois (@ChiefDigOfficer) is a partner at East Coast Catalyst, a Boston-based digital consulting companyspecializing in strategic roadmaps, digital marketing audits, and online marketing optimization programs.

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