Grey area: half of Brits ‘hold brands accountable for content they are adjacent to’

The study explored how consumers’ perceptions of a brand are influenced when it advertises alongside ‘questionable content’.

Research from IPG Mediabrand's MAGNA in partnership with the brand suitability and contextual advertising partner to YouTube, Channel Factory, found 49% of UK advert viewers hold brands accountable for content they advertise against on video apps and platforms.

The study follows on from 2021 research conducted by the two organisations which intended to identify if certain content areas have a negative impact on brands and found that misaligning content - advertising your brand against content that is not in line with your brand’s values or ethos - can demerit consumers’ perceptions of the brand. For example, advertising a popular children’s brand prior to a video about alcohol consumption.

This latest report delves into an area known as ‘questionable content’ or ‘grey content’, considered to fall into a grey area in terms of advertising alignment. According to the study, questionable content can be identified by exploring the nuances in video types for certain content and the reactions consumers have towards advertising appearing alongside those videos.

To identify the impact of grey content, regular users of a popular social media video app from the UK, US and Australia were surveyed. The survey found that what’s ok for one brand may not be ok for another - perceptions of appropriateness vary on a case-by-case basis - so brands always need to be cautious of suitability when deciding which content to run an advert against.

Richard Oliver, Managing Director, MAGNA UK, said: “Just as there’s no one size fits all approach to brand planning, so there’s no one size fits all approach to brand suitability.

“There are real rewards for brands that consider all the nuances around content, environment and their audience and get the mix right.”

The impact of advertising alongside grey content

Decline in purchase intent from consumers due to a misalignment with grey content is most volatile among Gen Z adults and Millennials, the research found. Across UK respondents, purchase intent decreased by 7% for Gen Z and 5% for Millennials when the brand ran ads against questionable content vs. standard content.

Persuasion metrics were also found to take a hit when consumers consider an advert to be adjacent to questionable content, with UK respondents identified to have a stronger message association to adverts alongside standard content (+14 pts) versus questionable content (+4 pts). Subsequently, purchase intent and search intent were higher for standard content ads as opposed to questionable at +11 pts and +5pts respectively.

Rob Blake, UK MD, Channel Factory, said: “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 rigour.

“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.”

Kara Manatt, EVP, Managing Director, Intelligence Solutions, MAGNA, added: “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. “Brands need to lean into the challenges that the grey area of questionable content provides.