Survey: Brand safety consumer backlash risk

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A survey of US consumers highlights the significant financial risk to brands from a potential brand safety crisis involving their advertising. Conducted among 1,017 respondents via SurveyMonkey by global certification programme the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) and digital advertising industry initiative Brand Safety Institute (BSI), the survey found more than 80 per cent of consumers said they would reduce or stop buying a product they regularly purchase if it advertised in a range of hypothetical situations involving extreme or dangerous content.

“This survey drives home the real and measurable risk to a company’s bottom line from a preventable brand safety crisis,” said Mike Zaneis, CEO of TAG and co-founder of BSI. “While reputational harm can be hard to measure, consumers said that they plan to vote with their wallets if brands fail to take the necessary steps to protect their supply chain from risks such as hate speech, malware, and piracy.”

The survey also discovered that consumers define brand safety broadly, including issues such as ad-related piracy and malware, as well as those involving ad placement around inappropriate content. Among potential topics of brand-unsafe content, consumers expressed the strongest concern about ads running near hate speech, pornographic content, violent content, and illegal drug-related content.

“We were surprised at the nuanced understanding of brand safety risks shown by respondents in this survey,” said Neal Thurman, co-founder of BSI. “While accidental ad placement around criminal activity has been widely covered in the media, consumers recognised that brand safety concerns extends to a full spectrum of more subjective topics. They also assigned responsibility for brand safety across the supply chain, including not only the advertisers, but also agencies, publishers, and ad tech providers.”

Notable results from the survey included:

  • Large majorities of respondents said advertisers should prevent their ads from running near hate speech (73 per cent ), pornographic content (73 per cent ), violent content (70 per cent ), and illegal drug-related content (69 per cent ).
  • More than half of respondents said that advertisers should prevent their ads from running near stolen/pirated movies or TV shows (53 per cent ) and unsafe or hacked websites (73 per cent ).
  • Less than half of respondents said advertisers should prevent their ads from running near gambling-related content (43 per cent ) or controversial political views (41 per cent ).
  • The overwhelming majority of respondents (90 per cent ) said it was very or somewhat important for advertisers to make sure their ads don’t appear near dangerous, offensive, or inappropriate content.
  • If respondents discovered ads for a product they regularly buy had appeared next to racist Neo-Nazi propaganda, 87 per cent  said they would reduce their spending on that product, and 58 per cent  said they would stop buying it altogether.
  • If respondents discovered such ads next to terrorist recruiting videos, 90 per cent  would reduce their spending on the product advertised, and 67 per cent  would stop buying it altogether.
  • If respondents discovered such ads on a website promoting illegal activities such as stolen videos and other content, 82 per cent  would reduce their spending on the product advertised, and 45 per cent  would stop buying it altogether.
  • If respondents discovered such an ad had infected their computer or mobile device with malware, 93 per cent  would reduce their spending on the product advertised, and 73 per cent  would stop buying it altogether.
  • When asked who should be responsible for ensuring ads do not run with dangerous, offensive, or inappropriate content, respondents assigned responsibility broadly, with 70 per cent  naming the advertiser, 68 per cent  the ad agency, 61 per cent  the website owner, and 46 per cent  the technology provider.

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