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Survey: UK consumers distrust ads in ‘toxic environments’

May 11, 2021

More than 85 per cent of UK consumers would reduce or stop purchasing products they buy regularly if they discovered an ad for that product had run next to Covid-19 conspiracy theories or misinformation, according to the 2021 TAG/BSI UK Brand Safety Survey, conducted by certification programme the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) and Brand Safety Institute (BSI).

In addition, most consumers said they would curtail purchases from a favourite brand that advertised near hate speech (89 per cent), malware (92 per cent), illegal content (89 per cent), or terrorist recruiting materials (93 per cent).

A significant majority of respondents (89 per cent) said that hate speech had increased online over the last year. Highlighting the brand safety risk of such content, 72 per cent of respondents felt hate speech should be blocked by advertisers, one of the two highest responses for blocked categories. The majority of respondents also said advertisers should block pornographic content (73 per cent), violent content (68 per cent), illegal drug-related content (66 per cent), and unsafe or hacked websites (59 per cent).

“The past year has brought forth the four horsemen of toxic content into the advertising ecosystem: death, lies, political poison, and hate speech,” declared Mike Zaneis, CEO of TAG. “As brand safety threats quickly evolve, UK consumers are looking to advertising industry leaders to identify and address those types of unsafe and inappropriate content in real time. TAG’s Brand Safety Certification sets a rigorous global standard for brand safety across all supply chain participants, while providing the flexibility to adapt to new and emerging challenges.”

In the survey, four in five consumers said they were more aware of brand safety issues than 12 months ago. An overwhelming majority of respondents (91 per cent) said that it was important for advertisers to make sure their ads are not placed near dangerous, offensive, or inappropriate content.

Despite broad concerns over unsafe content, many UK consumers felt that news was generally safe for ads, with 36 per cent saying they felt it was appropriate to advertise with any news content, and less than half of respondents opposed to specific news topics such as drug abuse and overdose (42 per cent), violent protests and riots (37 per cent), and Covid-19 deaths and tragedies (33 per cent).

“The tragic and momentous events of the last year have elevated not only the importance of high brand safety standards, but the need to focus on consumer expectations, not conventional wisdom,” asserted Jules Kendrick, TAG MD of UK and Europe. “This research shows that consumers believe that brand safety should be a top-tier priority and a shared responsibility across the industry, which is why TAG has built a global cross-industry certification programme to support those efforts.”

From a responsibility perspective, UK consumers believe that the industry as a whole should be working together to improve brand safety. Respondents to the survey said that brand safety responsibility lies roughly equally across all of the major players in the industry, including advertisers (52 per cent), agencies (56 per cent), technology providers (47 per cent), and publishers (54 per cent).

“The results of this survey underscore how transformative the last year plus have been in digital advertising,” noted Neal Thurman, Co-founder of the Brand Safety Institute and Director of the Coalition for Better Ads. “The issues that marketers face in brand safety have gone from beingly largely a business-to-business concern among members of the digital advertising supply chain to entering the consumer consciousness. High profile issues like Covid misinformation, treatment of Black Lives Matter and the George Floyd killing,  and the series of events surrounding the US election in November have put marketers and the impact and perception of their digital spending front and centre with consumers.”

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