Report: Consumers boycotting brands for placing ads near ‘offensive’ content

CMO Council's VP of marketing says brands needs to get over the assumption that misplacing a digital ad will be forgiven by consumers


Marketers need to get over the assumption consumers will forgive them for placing ads in the wrong digital context, because customers will boycott their brands if they do.

That’s the top-line finding of a new consumer study undertaken by the CMO Council, which looked at the impact advertising placed near offensive content has on consumer perceptions of a brand, and what actions they’d take as a result.

Nearly half of the 2000 consumers surveyed in the US and UK said they’d rethink purchasing brands or boycott products if they encounter brand ads alongside digital content that offends them (48 per cent). In addition, two-thirds would hold a dimmer view of brands that provided ‘negative advertising experiences’.

Thirty-seven per cent said it’d change the way they think of a brand when making a decision to buy, while 11 per cent said they would “not do business with that brand”. Nine per cent also become vocal critics of the brand.

Just shy of two-thirds also claim to respond more positively to an ad running in a trusted media channel, and 60 per cent said offensive context had already caused them to consumer more content from trusted, well-known news sources and established media channels. Friends, TV and search engines ranked the top three content providers, followed by newspapers, then social media.

In response to the findings, CMO Council senior VP of marketing, Liz Miller, said marketers are still working under two misguided assumptions. The first is that “consumers will forgive us most everything”, including a brand that misplaces an ad. The second assumption is that the Internet “is a relatively safe place”.

“Those two assumptions are being blown out of the water,” she told CMO. “The Internet isn’t necessarily a safe place for our advertising dollars. With ad exchanges, and various exchange platforms, there’s isn’t necessarily the visibility or transparency we assume.

“Today there’s a sensitivity around where news is being consumed and where the message is, and an understanding of the nuances of clickbait websites versus trusted and legitimate websites. There is a real sophistication, and consumers know there’s ad blocking technology they can use.”

The CMO Council report, for instance, found more than 50 per cent of respondents already had or are planning to install some form of ad blocking software to their mobile devices or PC browsers.

For Miller, what also shines through the report are growing consumer concerns about the legitimacy and quality of the news, research, information and content they’re accessing online.

“As our customers get more discerning, we as brand marketers have a heightened responsibility to meet those expectations,” she said.   

Linking advertising to CX and brand values

Miller said more work needs to be done around tying advertising to wider customer experience expectations. Increasingly, brands must look at advertising in the wider context of brand image, customer value and the total experience of the customer.

“That blind faith that as long as my ad appears somewhere is OK, is no longer acceptable,” she said.

As an example of where things go wrong, Miller point to controversial right-wing news site, Breitbart, and its coverage of the US election. Because much of the site’s inventory is available programmatically, brands were appearing on the site that had no idea they were associating with such content.

“This is not necessarily the audience and content every brand wants to be associated with,” Miller said. “Within minutes of an ad appearing, there were consumers having ‘OMG moments’ on social media as they realised brands they liked were on Breitbart. A brand they loved that is supposed to reflect their image and point of view was advertising on a website they loathed.

“That news spread like wildfire and there were calls to boycott the brand until the ads came down. The brand is calling agencies asking what is going on, we didn’t ask you to put ads on that network. The ad agencies are saying we didn’t, we put the ad up on the exchange as they always do. The exchange is throwing their heads up in the air, saying we told you it could appear anywhere, you just told us the dollar amount you wanted to spend.”

So how do marketers more actively make decisions to stay some place in the light in the dark of the Web? Miller said it comes down to asking the tough questions, and putting the right expectations on media and agency partners to ensure consumers get the experience they expect. She also agreed everyone in the chain has a responsibility.

“We have to almost go back to the good old-fashioned ad buying strategy and those conversations we used to have in the 1990s,” she said. “We had those strategic conversations with agencies, who had tough conversations with media outlets, and those media outlets said these are the types of ads we want to have on our pages. It’s was an accountability.”

Because digital marketing has been such a fast moving train, marketers have largely just “been hanging on tight”, Miller said, excited by the prospect of capitalising on the totality of what’s on the Web.

“Brands need to take step back and do the hardest thing for any marketers to do across any strategy: Clearly define for the entire organisation who they are and who they want to be associated with,” Miller advised. “How does that reflect the needs, wants and desires of our customers, and are where our customers want us to be?”

It also requires a rethink of ‘value’ as more to a consumer than just a cash exchange.

“We know people do not respond well to highly disruptive advertising. That value has to be more strategic and about adding value to that consumer’s day,” Miller said. “That is the seismic shift in customer experience. It’s not about connecting the dots, it’s… delivering you a micro-moment in value in the moment you need it.

“With all the technology that allows us to make ads more effective, you still have to ask: Do you just want effectiveness, or are you looking at content and ensuring that serves the audience you are reaching?”

The CMO Council study of consumers is part of a wider digital brand safety currently being conducted in partnership with Dow Jones, entitled Brand Protection from Content Infection.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu          

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