Hearts & Science: Negative Brand Adjacency Has A Direct Impact On The Bottom Line

When ads show up next to questionable content, consumers are far from impressed.

Sixty-four percent of adult consumers say a brand’s reputation is at risk if its media appears next to hateful or derogatory content, according to research released Wednesday by Omnicom media agency Hearts & Science, which surveyed roughly 1,500 consumers ages 22-45 across the US and Canada.

Yet, brand safety is subjective and best tackled on a brand-by-brand basis.

A soft drink brand targeted at men in their 20s, for example, probably has a much higher risk tolerance for ads appearing adjacent to inappropriate content – in fact, that content might be just what the brand is looking for.

The opposite would likely be true for a health care brand or something aimed at young moms. Meanwhile some content – say, ISIS recruitment videos or rape apology – will never fly.

It’s a question of getting what you pay for – as in getting transparency into where media is running and why.

“Because when brands appear in an environment that’s not aligned with their brand guidelines, it can have a measurable negative impact on the consumer’s image of the brand,” said Megan Pagliuca, chief data officer at Hearts & Science. “We want to change consumer behavior, but not for the negative. That’s why brand adjacency is so incredibly important.”

There’s also a clear dotted line between brand safety and the bottom line.

Even if an ill-advised placement isn’t the advertiser’s fault, 51% of respondents said ads running adjacent to dubious content would give them pause before buying a product from that brand.

In other words, pre-roll promoting a diaper brand on a PewDiePie video is more than an oops.

Seventy percent of the people surveyed by Hearts & Science said they wouldn’t recommend or purchase from a brand if it appears in the vicinity of nasty or offensive content.

“And that doesn’t even highlight the obvious PR fallout that brands experience when reporters dig in and it becomes a broader story,” Pagliuca said.

Regardless of the medium, context matters, said Hearts & Science CEO Scott Hagedorn. The concept of negative reach is as applicable to traditional media like TV as it is for digital. But online environments present a unique brand safety challenge: user-generated content.

On a platform like YouTube, for example, which has been roiled by brand safety headaches, creators add their own metadata, and that’s what the targeting filters are based on. Google starts to monetize video content on YouTube after 10,000 views and a video only gets formally reviewed by the platform if someone flags the content as questionable.

Also nestled within the metadata are data points that Google doesn’t disclose, like whether a piece of content has been flagged for review and how many times.

“There’s no magical AI scanning the videos and adding metadata,” Hagedorn said. “Our request continuously has been for Google to disclose all of the metadata they have so we can understand how many exposures it takes before a video is flagged for review to determine whether it’s brand-safe.”

WIthout that information, advertisers need to buy with their eyes wide open.

“The agency’s role is to say to clients, ‘Here are your options, what are you comfortable with?’” Hagedorn said. “If you want to advertise in someone’s news feed, for example, you have to accept that you won’t always agree with what’s being expressed or the content that person curates. You can’t put a sign in someone’s yard and then expect to influence what’s going on inside their house.”

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