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Marketing next to negative stories is safe for advertisers, study says

Brands that advertise on trusted news websites don’t suffer damage by appearing on negative or violent articles, research shows

  • Negative news articles on trusted sites do not harm advertisers, study says
  • Content around ads doesn’t matter if in trusted environments, claims Reach
  • Publishers’ digital revenues hit by ad restrictions next to Covid content last year

Violent or other negative articles on well-known news websites have no harmful effect on the brands advertising alongside them, a study found today.

The content around adverts does not matter as long as they are placed in trusted environments rather than on social media, according to the publisher Reach.

It comes after publishers saw digital revenues hit by restrictions on adverts next to Covid-19 content last year which came at a time of huge audience demand for news.

The ‘In Safe Hands’ report released today tested the claim that advertising against ‘intense’ stories in a trusted news environment does not negatively impact brands.

It carried out a ‘forced exposure study’ on the impact of advertising alongside news content of three levels of intensity or ‘safety’ – low, medium and high.

Readers of Reach’s national websites were shown content of one of the three levels of intensity of ‘safety’ – low, medium and high – and had the reactions displayed in the graphic above

Reach said responses to the news content did not transfer to the advertised brands when shown within the news environments - with the same result for all three intensity levels

Reach said responses to the news content did not transfer to the advertised brands when shown within the news environments – with the same result for all three intensity levels

Examples were given as ‘low’ intensity being Strictly Come Dancing, ‘medium’ being racism in football and ‘high’ being a story about the Islamic State ‘Beatles’ gang. 

Readers of Reach’s national websites – which include the Mirror, Express and Star – were shown content of one of the three levels within the news environment. 

These included pre-roll adverts, which automatically play directly before a video on a website, from well-known brands in the sports, travel and healthcare sectors.

Reach said responses to the news content matched the level of content intensity, but emotions towards even the most extreme news content did not transfer to the advertised brands when shown within the news environments.

This meant emotions felt towards the advertiser brands were almost identical, regardless of content intensity, with the impact of the adverts therefore similar.

Examples were given as 'low' intensity news stories being Strictly Come Dancing, 'medium' being racism in football and 'high' being a story about the Islamic State 'Beatles' gang

Examples were given as ‘low’ intensity news stories being Strictly Come Dancing, ‘medium’ being racism in football and ‘high’ being a story about the Islamic State ‘Beatles’ gang

However, a mocked-up news website called ‘Circulate’ was created to compare against Reach’s real brands with the same news content and pre-roll ads.

It found adverts next to the same ‘unsafe’ story in ‘Circulate’ prompted much stronger negativity towards both the environment and the advertiser brands.

Negative emotion towards ‘Circulate’ was also twice as high compared with Reach websites – and this result transferred to the advertiser brands as well.

It meant those watching the ads alongside medium intensity content on the mocked-up site were far more likely to express negative emotions towards them.

Andrew Tenzer, director of market insights and brand strategy at Reach, said: ‘The evidence is irrefutable.

The 'In Safe Hands' report released today tested the claim that advertising against 'intense' stories in a trusted news environment does not negatively impact brands

The ‘In Safe Hands’ report released today tested the claim that advertising against ‘intense’ stories in a trusted news environment does not negatively impact brands

‘Quality environments matter just as much, if not more so, when it comes to brand safety. Content intensity does not have a negative impact on brand perception on trusted news sites.’

The report was by Reach Solutions, the advertising arm of Reach which has nine national and 110 regional newsbrands.

Sarah Frost, insight manager at Reach Solutions, said: ‘While online regulation is a rightful concern, advertising is equally effective when shown next to content that would normally be blocked as long as it is in a trusted news environment.

‘This is a major eye-opener for marketeers and opens up huge swathes of digital inventory to advertisers.’

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