BMW has unfortunately found itself in a difficult position after one of its ads emerged on popular local content site Mothership, alongside an article detailing a horrific car crash along Tanjong Pagar which took the lives of five individuals over the Lunar New Year weekend.
The ad seen by MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, on the morning of 16 February 2021, was located midway through the article and had a video promoting the purchase of BMW vehicles through a behind-the-scene point of view. The ad showed mechanics checking the quality of the vehicles, taking stocks, and fixing the cars. A quick check by MARKETING-INTERACTIVE at the time of publication saw that the ad had since been removed. Meanwhile, MARKETING-INTERACTIVE was also alerted of the ad by industry professional Chris Reed, founder of Black Marketing who saw the ad on the 15 February 2021.
In a statement to MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, BMW Singapore said it is currently investigating the matter and Mothership was not part of its initial media plan. As such, it is uncertain how the ad emerged on the publication's platform. Moreover, a spokesperson clarified that all media plans were halted immediately after news of the accident emerged.
"Once we were made aware of the accident on 13 February, we instructed our media agency to stop all digital communications. Unfortunately, these changes take some time to go into effect. While some vendors were able to immediately respond, others took time as it was the CNY holiday," a spokesperson said. "Brand safety is taken very seriously at BMW and we have measures in place to ensure that our ads do not appear alongside negative keywords or content," the statement added. BMW Asia and Performance Motors currently works with Starcom as its media agency.
Meanwhile, in a statement to MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, a spokesperson from Mothership clarified that the publications’ web display ads are managed by the Mediacorp Digital Network. A Mediacorp spokesperson has since confirmed to MARKETING-INTERACTIVE that BMW Asia made the request to stop all ads on 13 February. "Unfortunately the ad on Mothership, which was placed by an Authorised Service Centre and not BMW Asia, was not removed from the platform in time. We are sorry for the oversight and we are reviewing our SOPs to ensure that this will not happen again," the spokesperson added.
While unfortunate programmatic ad placements are not uncommon, they run the risk of jeopardising consumer's perception of the brand. In a 2018 Magna study titled "The Brand Safety Effect", it is found that consumers’ perception of the brand declines significantly across key brand metric with unsafe ad placements. It was also concluded that consumers’ purchase intent is "stifled" by two times when brands display their ads alongside unfavourable content. Magna's study also saw over four times decline in which consumers felt that the brand does not care about its audience.
However, when it comes to programmatic ads, it is not uncommon for brands to be shoved into the wrong spotlight. In 2019, following news of the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, Mediacorp made headlines for running ads of its digital entertainment service Toggle with the words "under our sky" and "there is a monster in all of us" alongside news coverage of the flight crash on Channel NewsAsia's digital platform. Similarly, The Straits Times was also found to host ads from AirAsia promoting "free seats" that ran alongside a news article on the plane crash. Meanwhile, an ad from Sompo Insurance was also found on the platform that featured a call to action for viewers to "buy now" before its promotion ends.
Although problems of programmatic ads persists, marketers are of the view that brands will rely on programmatic advertising. In fact, in a previous interview with MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, Laura Quigley, managing director, Southeast Asia at Integral Ad Science, said although the pandemic has caused some brands to decrease spend on programmatic, it still remains a bright spot for struggling ad markets, which stand to benefit from the streamlined, non-human processes inherent to automated ad buying.
She added that marketers tend to place more focus on business performance and ROI during difficult times, and find programmatic advantageous with its efficient audience-targeting capabilities. Advertisers will also inevitably look to deploy data and insights via programmatic channels, including private marketplaces and programmatic direct deals, Quigley added.
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