The Art of Alignment

23 January 2023



Misaligned content – the idea that advertising your brand against content that is not in line with your brand’s values or ethos can be harmful – has long been a challenge in digital advertising. We know that misaligned content erodes the impact of ads, leading to decreased impact on metrics like purchase intent, for example. But, what about the content in the grey area? This area, also known as “questionable content,” remains largely unexplored within the digital landscape.

MAGNA Media Trials, in partnership with Channel Factory, researched this topic and explored the nuances in video types and how they relate to consumers’ perceptions of the brand that is advertising against this content. The study pointed out that brands are held accountable for the content they appear next to, which was clear in all three markets studied: Australia, U.S. and UK. The research also found that blocking entire categories is not the answer, as perceptions of content differ by consumer.

“Ad environments that fall into grey areas require careful judgment calls be made by brands and their agencies,” said Joshua Lowcock, Global Chief Media Officer at UM. “There isn’t always a one-size fits all solution as misaligned content for one brand could be a smart, under-leveraged opportunity for another. Put differently, what’s right for one brand isn’t always right for another.”

Key findings from the study that may be of interest include:

  • Brands have the most to lose with Gen Z adults and Millennials: Purchase intent decreased by 6% for Gen Z and 8% for Millennials when the brand ran ads against questionable content vs. standard content. 
  • Brands are held accountable for content they are adjacent to: Across all three markets, consumers agreed a brand was supporting the content their ad was adjacent to (41% U.S., 49% UK and 36% Australia). Consumers have become savvier about the advertising ecosystem as well and shared that they felt an ad being shown before the video had some sort of direct correlation with the brand. 
  • When content is questionable it prevents the message from sticking and persuasion metrics take a hit: Consumers from all three markets had stronger message association adjacent to standard content (+12 pts) versus ads adjacent to questionable content (+3 pts). Persuasion metrics like purchase intent and search intent also had major decreases (+4 pts and +6 pts, respectively). 
  • What’s OK for one brand may not be for another: Perceptions of appropriateness vary by brand; while questionable content feels most inappropriate for the toy (26 over index) and financial services (11 over index) brands, it’s less likely to be perceived as misaligned for the beverage (indexed at 86) and quick service brands (indexed at 78). 
  • In a professional environment, brands should be even more cautious about suitability: When targeting a B2B audience with a B2B ad, questionable content is deemed even less appropriate, with 45% disagreeing with the appropriateness of the content when it comes to B2B financial services brands, and 38% for B2C financial services brands. 

“Exploring the grey areas of content in online advertising was an interesting foray into the power of brand perception and how consumers are becoming savvier within the industry landscape,” said Kara Manatt, EVP, Managing Director, Intelligence Solutions, MAGNA. “Brands need to lean into the challenges that the grey area of questionable content provides.”

“Similar to how brands have always made decisions about where to buy print ads or place their billboards, we believe brands buying media placements in online video should have the same rigor, and this study proves how important alignment is,” said Lauren Douglass, SVP Marketing, Channel Factory. “Especially with younger audiences, consumers are sensitive to what content a brand is running alongside, as they believe the brand is proactively supporting that video. Advertisers who are thoughtful about the content they support will be more successful from a perception and purchase intent perspective.”

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