News

Hard news on sites does not harm advertising, report reveals

Posted on: January 21, 2021 by Ian Murray

Research carried out by national and regional publisher Reach has revealed that hard news content on legitimate news websites does not have a harmful effect on brands advertising next to them.

In a report – In Safe Hands – Reach Solutions confirmed that even violent or other negative articles on well-known news websites did not have a negative effect on advertising placed alongside.

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.

The research comes out after mainstream publishers found their advertising revenues hit last year when digital platforms placed restrictions on placing advertisements next to Covid-19-related articles even though these were often the most read.

The practice was eventually overturned after intervention by the media industry including the NMA and Newsworks, and the UK government.

Now the new research by Reach Solutions underscores the argument that readers are not deterred from products and brands advertised adjacent to hard news items.

The report drew on a forced exposure study using 4,500 people in January last year to test the impact of different types of content on the brands advertising alongside them, combined with a nationally representative survey of 2,020 people in May to find out about consumer concerns around brand safety.

The project 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.

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 were shown content of one of the three levels within the news environment. 

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.

A mocked-up news website was also created to compare against Reach’s real brands with the same news content and advertisments. It found adverts next to the same hard news story then prompted much stronger negativity towards the advertiser brands.

The report concludes: “So what does all of this mean for the industry and their concerns over brand safety? Firstly, that the public understand that there’s a difference between curated news on established, quality newsbrand sites compared with content that ‘pops up’ on social media or user generated content video sites. They know that what they see on publisher sites has been created by professional journalists, while social media and UGC video sites are seen to be unregulated and unpredictable. 

“When it comes to online safety concerns, it’s not established news sites that consumers are worried about. They know that not all digital platforms are created equal, and advertisers should too.”

“Even those outside the industry understand the importance of a quality, trusted environment and the benefits this brings for brands. The context of a safe, familiar news environment ‘protects’ advertiser brands from any negative associations with the content it sits alongside, and instead it’s the qualities of the environment that brands align themselves with. 

“As a result, advertisers should be more concerned about where their ads are being placed and what this environment says about their brand, rather than placing disproportionate focus on what content it may sit alongside.

“Over recent years publishers have been treated in the same way as social media and YouTube, with the creation and universal application of brand safety tools resulting in perfectly ‘safe’ content on news sites being blocked by advertisers. However, even content that is ‘correctly’ classified as ‘unsafe’ by these tools shouldn’t be off limits to advertising.

“As long as this type of content is presented within a quality editorial environment, there is no detrimental impact to brands. 

“So while advertisers are unlikely to completely abandon brand safety rules, these rules need to be nuanced to take the content provider and surrounding environment into account. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to brand safety, and believing there is will lead to wasted inventory for publishers and wasted opportunities for advertisers.”

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

“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 full report can be read here.