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Is Unsafe Content Putting Your Ads at Risk

When you pay Google to run ads for your business, you put a tremendous amount of responsibility into their hands. The same is true for platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. It can be difficult or even downright impossible to determine where and when your ads are being shown.

Sure, you can mark “no adult content,” or “no political content” on some platforms. But even this doesn’t guarantee your ads won’t be shown next to what your audience considers unsafe or offensive content. But is this really something you should be worried about, especially if it’s out of your control? According to a recent study from Cheq, the answer is, “yes.”

Negative Ad Placement Interferes with Brand Perception

Cheq’s study looked at how consumers perceived brands both before and after incidents of negative ad placement. It found a marked reduction in the consumer’s “willingness to associate,” “willingness to recommend,” and “purchase intent,” in nearly every case.

Complicating the problem even further was the fact that it isn’t always clear-cut what audiences consider “unsafe content.” One consumer may find far-right political content offensive, for example, while another is just as offensive by far-left content instead. These micro-differences can be extremely common, even within tight niche groups or very small markets.

Worse yet? Brand perception didn’t just sink slightly; in some cases, it nose-dived significantly enough to cause consumers to part way with the business entirely. And often, the brand wasn’t even aware this was taking place.

Ad Placement as Partnership

The driving force behind Cheq’s findings likely has a lot to do with the fact that consumers often see ad placements as business partnerships. In marketing, that’s not exactly how we see PPC advertisement or ad placement, but it’s the consumer’s view that matters most, here. Consumers very often assume that brands are not only aware of the placement, but actively participating with the organization creating the unsafe content in the first place. In short, they believe you’ve endorsed the content.

Here’s a hypothetical example. Let’s say you’re a candy-making company with gourmet treats. If Google posts your ad beside an article espousing the evidence that too much sugar leads to Type II Diabetes, the reader may start to perceive your treats as dangerous, harmful, or just simply something to be avoided.

When Negative Placement Becomes a PR Disaster

The previous example is rather lightweight; sure, it’s not ideal, but it’s possible people may see it as a coincidence. But there are scenarios where negative ad placement can turn into a full-blown PR disaster. Imagine a lingerie company having their ads placed beside a news article for sexual assault, or an ad for wedding rings placed on this article about child brides in HuffPo.

These connections and placements happen because advertisers often use keywords to identify categories and associations. But that won’t stop your audience from assuming you reviewed and approved (or even endorsed) the content before you agreed to place the ad. What started as an innocent attempt to drum up business could lead to, “Company X Partners with Racist Blogger for Advertising” on a major social media platform.

The Good News (and Bad News)

There’s good news and bad news here. First, it is possible to avoid negative ad placement – mostly. Always advertise through reputable platforms, and drill down on your demographic as tightly as you can.

The bad news? You can’t always avoid negative placement; sometimes, it truly is just a mistake or an error in algorithms. If you do find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, acknowledge the mishap, address it, and request that your ads aren’t shown next to that content again. If the advertiser refuses to comply, it may be a sign that they aren’t the right match for your content.

PR and advertising aren’t easy, especially in the online world. At Go Digital WSI, we show businesses how to excel and get the right placements for success. Reach out to us today for custom advice on your best path forward.