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85% Of UK Consumers Would Boycott Favourite Brands if Ads Appeared Near COVID-19 Conspiracies

  • Respondents also say online hate speech has jumped in past year and support blocking ads near such content, according to TAG/BSI survey

More than 85% of UK consumers would reduce or stop purchasing products they buy on-the-regular 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 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%), malware (92%), illegal content (89%), or terrorist recruiting materials (93%).

A significant majority of respondents (89%) said that hate speech had increased online over the last year. Highlighting the brand safety risk of such content, 72% 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%), violent content (68%), illegal drug-related content (66%), and unsafe or hacked websites (59%).

“The past year has brought forth the four horsemen of toxic content into the advertising ecosystem: death, lies, political poison, and hate speech,” said 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.”

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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%) 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% 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%), violent protests and riots (37%), and COVID-19 deaths and tragedies (33%).

“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,” said 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 program 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%), agencies (56%), technology providers (47%), and publishers (54%).

“The results of this survey underscore how transformative the last year plus have been in digital advertising,” said 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 center with consumers.”

In September, TAG launched the industry’s first global brand safety certification programme, TAG Brand Safety Certified, with more than 110 major companies participating at launch, including Amazon, Conde Nast, Facebook, Google, GroupM, Havas, OpenX, Samsung, Sky, The Trade Desk, Twitter and Xandr. The programme is designed to significantly reduce the risk of the misplacement of advertising on digital media of all types. Working in collaboration with trade bodies, industry initiatives and leaders, the global guidelines have been developed to help parties within the supply chain address and prevent potential brand safety issues.

The results of this year’s survey are consistent with findings from a similar survey conducted among US consumers on similar topics by TAG and BSI late last year. The full results of the 2021 TAG/BSI UK Brand Safety Survey can be found here.

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Industry Reaction

Phil Smith, Director General, ISBA:

“Addressing misinformation and disinformation around Covid-19 and the impact it could have on brands and their customers was one of the first issues ISBA addressed at the beginning of the pandemic. Through working with TAG and other stakeholders we have been able to give our members much needed guidance to ensure their brands are not inadvertently validating or supporting this type of harmful content”

Richard Reeves, Managing Director, Association of Online Publishers:

“When it comes to tackling industry challenges, collaborative action is often the most powerful. As an industry we need to stand together to recognise and address issues around brand safety, while understanding the complex nuances that exist in a shared ecosystem. There needs to be less finger pointing and more collective responsibility to ensure regulations and standards are relevant, transparent and applicable across every aspect of the supply chain.”

Tina Lakhani, Head of Ad Tech, IAB UK:

“Improving brand safety within the digital advertising ecosystem is a key priority for us at IAB UK and this survey underlines the importance of this issue for consumers. As the results indicate, people see brand safety as the responsibility of the whole industry and a collaborative approach is essential to ensure that brands have the tools and the techniques they need to not only execute a successful brand safe and brand suitable strategy, but to also proactively support the quality news content that is so essential to our society. We are committed to continue working with TAG and the wider industry to achieve that.”

Nigel Gwilliam, Director of Media Affairs, IPA:

“As our media consumption diversifies and news headlines become even more unpredictable, we need to ensure that our brand safety and security protocols are robust enough to withstand the heat.”

Methodology

The survey of 802 adults in the United Kingdom was conducted via SurveyMonkey from April 4-6, 2021. The survey had a margin of error of +/-3 percent at a 95 percent confidence interval.

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