Money & Business

Is Online Ad Placement Tanking Your Association’s Brand?

By / May 15, 2019 (takasuu/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

In the online advertising world, organizations often have little say about where their ads appear, but having ads show up next to violent content or articles that run counter to your mission can tarnish your reputation. A look at the problem and some solutions.

When people see online ads, they assume the advertiser picked that location intentionally. But that’s typically not the case. Even though organizations rarely select where web ads appear, ads paired with what your members may consider inappropriate content can have a nasty impact on your association’s brand, according to Daniel Avital, chief strategy officer at security and brand-safety firm CHEQ.

A study released by CHEQ last October confirms this. In that research, the company showed 2,300-plus consumers ads paired with either safe content or unsafe content. Unfortunately, consumers blamed the brand when its ads were paired with unsavory content.

“There was a 280 percent decline in consumers’ willingness to associate with the brand,” said Avital, citing study results. “You build your brand reputation over decades, and then I show you ads paired with nasty content a few times, and your brand drops nearly 300 percent. This is real material damage.”

What Tarnishes Brands?

For another study released in April, CHEQ analyzed 70 global brands that served ads on mainstream news sites. Researchers found 178 brand-safety violations where their ads were served next to content considered inappropriate in the context of brands’ mission and marketing goals.

In the association context, for example, this might be an ad for an alcohol industry group appearing next to a story about a drunk driver who killed a family of seven.

Being placed next to political content can be bad for brands too. In 2017, advertisers were upset at being placed on the right-wing website Breitbart News, leading many to pull their ads from the site. And, after some negative publicity, companies like YouTube and Facebook are actively trying to avoid obvious bad fits.

However, brand safety is about more than avoiding being placed next to political content or violent news stories. Neither a site nor its content has to be objectively bad for it to be a bad placement. For example, an industry association that has a specific point of view is not going to want to appear with content that doesn’t align with that view.

What Can Associations Do?

As the issue of brand safety has percolated in recent years, so have the solutions. Most involve setting parameters that help block ads from appearing with content that is misaligned.

A simple solution is for associations to blacklist certain websites, so ads can’t appear on them, and then to whitelist sites they consider safe. While this is better than an approach that takes no precautions, Avital says new sites can always crop up that aren’t on the blacklist. And whitelisting severely limits the sites that ads can appear on, meaning organizations may not be reaching the people they would like to.

Another way to mitigate bad placement is to block advertising on content that includes certain keywords. However, CHEQ’s April report found keyword blocking often excluded legitimate and desirable content. Avital recalled a news site that had a number of its articles blocked by advertisers because they contained one keyword.

“Just because the word shot appeared in the article, they couldn’t serve ads,” Avital said. “That is very bad because it could mean a whole host of things. It could mean a vaccination, it could mean LeBron James took a shot, or it could mean that a person got shot.”

Ideally, ad services would use better parameters, fueled by artificial intelligence, to align ad placement with brand. “For every advertiser to [be able to] say, this is what my brand is about, these are our values, these are our sensitivities. This is the kind of content we want to be near, and this is what we don’t want to appear alongside,” Avital said. “Different brands have different sensitivities.”

What steps has your association taken to protect its brand when it comes to online advertising? Let us know in the comments.

Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is an associate editor at Associations Now. She covers money and business. Email her with story ideas or news tips. More »

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