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Have we been doing brand safety wrong?

Consumers care less about what stories sit alongside the adverts and more about where they're published, recent research reveals.

Have we been doing brand safety wrong?

Is the industry thinking about brand safety in the right way? Are its energies directed to a place that will make a difference? Recent research shows that the publishing environment has a significant impact on whether consumers react with warmth and consideration towards advertising. It’s less about the specific story or content and more about where the ad appears.

These insights emerged from a study that Inskin Media carried out with research agency Conquest and data provider Research Now SSI. They used metaphor-based techniques to measure conscious and unconscious associations people held about brands upon exposure to online advertising.

The study compared responses to ads shown on unbranded sites to those on well-known, branded publisher sites, while the editorial content remained identical in both cases. There was a clear uplift in positive association among those users who were shown ads on the branded publisher site.

The research measured empathy, warmth, consideration and proximity – the affinity a consumer feels with a brand. Brand consideration scored particularly highly, especially when the research scrutinised regular readers of trusted sites.

Does this mean brand safety is this year’s millennium bug?
No. It doesn’t. It means consumer reaction to where advertising appears is more complex than initially thought. On the whole, negative content has no discernible impact on brand perception from consumers – a supermarket ad next to an article about obesity did not affect metrics – but the right publishing environment creates a positive uplift.

Targeting away from news, which has become a brand-safety trend, may be unnecessary for instance, especially if the publisher is a strong, trusted site and has created a good online environment. Evan Russell, Sales Director at Inskin, says: "Online publishers who pay a lot of consideration to the reader experience increase the value of their inventory because ads served on their sites are more effective. So they can optimise yield while carrying more selective types of advertising."

The research did, though, throw up an indication that in certain specific cases, a story can trigger associations and individual attributes that may affect brand  perception, e.g. a story about child abduction negatively affected one among 14 brand metrics for a food brand whose target audience are families. But there was no discernible pattern – these movements were localised and need deeper research.

Brand safety 2.0: the key takeaways
For agencies:
Invest in premium editorial environments – to boost ad effectiveness

For publishers:
Build strong user engagement – to increase the value of your properties

For advertisers:
Customise your brand safety policy – based on research specific to your brand

This infographic from the study – by Inskin Media, Conquest Research and Research Now SSI – compared the conscious and subconscious reactions of 4,370 people, who saw ads on websites either with or without publisher branding.