The brand safety fallout: Three in four marketers say brand reputation has taken a hit

A new report reveals the extent of the brand safety scandal on brands, with 78% of marketers saying it has hurt their brand’s reputation and 50% that it has impacted brand affinity.

brand safety

Marketers believe that the recent spate of brand safety issues, which resulted in brand ads appearing next to objectionable content, have a negative impact on consumers’ views of the brands affected.

According to a study by the CMO Council and Dow Jones, 78% of the 300 senior marketers questioned believe that unintended associations with unsavoury content, images, topics, audiences or conversations will hurt their brand’s reputation, while 67% believe the adjacency could undermine brand qualities and values. And half say brand safety scandals such as the one that hit YouTube earlier this year will have a negative impact on brand affinity.

These impacts on brands mean that, for 72% of respondents, advertising placement, programmatic buying results and metrics are now key concerns for management. Some 43% admit to having problems with how their advertising is viewed, while 22% have specific examples of how their brand advertising was connected to compromising content or served to an incorrect or inappropriate audience.

READ MORE: UK advertisers split over ending YouTube boycott after brand safety scandal

Yet just 34% are worried about alienating customers. This despite the fact previous research from the CMO Council found 48% of consumers would abandon brands they love if their ads appear next to objectionable content or on fake news sites, with 37% stating they would subsequently change the way they think of a brand when making a decision to buy.

“What is notable in these findings is that only 34% of marketers identified the alienation of core customers as a top area of impact from adjacency as marketers are more focused on the brand’s big picture of reputation and value,” reads the latest CMO Council and Dow Jones report.

“However, when consumers were asked about their reaction to seeing the brands they love being associated with inappropriate or questionable content, the answer was clear: Customers will walk away with their wallets—even if it means walking away from their most beloved brands. Brand security and integrity in advertising are not simply reputation issues anymore, they can directly impact the bottom line.”

Whose responsibility is brand safety?

Two-thirds (67%) of brand marketers put the onus on media agencies to ensure proper ad placement, with another 50% suggesting digital ad buying networks should take responsibility and 49% that the digital channel itself should have primary responsibility. These figures suggest there are a multitude of third parties marketers need to work with to ensure brand safety is prioritised within the digital ad ecosystem.

Brands themselves are also taking on more responsibilities, with 50% developing new guidelines for agencies and networks and 34% taking steps to better track and monitor digital advertising internally.

Yet it is clear that many see this as the responsibility of their media agencies and the ad networks. Liz Miller, SVP of the CMO Council tells Marketing Week: “Brand marketers are looking at agency partners and saying this is your responsibility. They still expect the efficient and effectiveness that programmatic has brought to the table but now they need to look at other options as well to make sure it is also safe and secure.”

Where agencies go wrong is if they interpret this to mean marketers want more services. This is not about services and execution this is about strategy.

Liz Miller, CMO Council

Miller advises marketers that a simple conversation about blacklists and whitelists is not enough, and that they instead need to get their agencies in much earlier in the marketing process to ensure they understand the strategy.

“Agencies need to understand how you want your brand to be perceived, who you want to align with. This is not just about targeting the right segments, this is about what’s the adjacency. And agencies need to push that question because marketers don’t think to bring that into the conversation,” she adds.

While it may seem marketers are abdicating their responsibility, Miller defends them, saying that with the “avalanche of responsibility it’s hard to stay on top of everything”. And she believes this offers an opportunity for agencies that can understand marketers’ pain points and actually add some value.

“This is an opportunity for agencies if they heed the call,” she concludes. “Where agencies go wrong is if they interpret this to mean marketers want more services. This is not about services and execution this is about strategy.”