Unfortunate ad placements are not new to the Singapore market. Most recently, ads by insurance company Chubb were found placed next to an online article covering the death of two young boys that rattled the community on national newspaper The Straits Times.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE understands that the ad placement was not through a direct buy through the publisher, but rather through Open Market programmatic ad buys.
A spokesperson from SPH Media Trust confirmed that the ad served was via the Open Marketplace where the brand safety controls are managed by the buyer. She added that when campaigns are activated via its direct sales channels, SPH Media Trust will ensure that all brand safety measures are in place.
“As it is a programmatic ad, different users may see different ads depending on the targeting criteria and browsing behaviour,” the spokesperson explained.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE has also reached out to Chubb for a statement but has not heard back at the time of publishing.
The case of misplaced ads is not uncommon to the Singapore landscape, and in fact, around Chinese New Year last year, BMW also found itself in an uncomfortable situation when its ads appeared next to a story around a car crash.
The question we then raised to media industry practitioners is if such ads, programmatic or in-house, should even be allowed on stories with tragic or sensitive content. While it undoubtedly catches eyeballs, the long term impact on the brand could be detrimental.
In fact, a 2018 study by Magna and brand safety company CHEQ found that consumers are about three times less willing to associate with a brand that advertises alongside inappropriate or offensive content.
Commenting on the incident, media agency veteran Ranganathan Somanathan, who co-founded consultancy RSquared Global Ventures, and works closely with media associations around the region said that it is ultimately the publisher’s ethos as to whether such content should remain in an ad free environment.
However, given the nuances and subjectivity around what is acceptable and what is not, it will be ideal for the industry, as advertisers, publishers and agencies, to work with regulators to clearly define appropriate environments for advertising to provide standardisation and clarity to all stakeholders. “From purely a personal point of view, I find anyone or any brand being opportunistic around someone else’s misfortune to be distasteful,” said Somanathan.
Gregory Fournier, global SVP strategy, at Unruly added:
Before even thinking about relevancy, it's a matter of decency to not advertise anything with this kind of content.
Fournier added that not only would it be detrimental for any brand to be associated with such a tragedy, but respect for the families should also be observed by publishers by not allowing any ads in the flow of these articles.
So, what else can brands do beyond blacklisting and having brand safety solutions? Not much, unfortunately, said Fournier, explaining that at the end of the day, what constitutes as inappropriate content can be subjective and audiences are used to seeing ads with most content.
"Perhaps it's publishers' responsibility to allow or disallow ads to be placed in the vicinity of such sensitive articles. This may be a signal, that automated ad platforms have their limitations and in this case, human assessment must prevail before blind automation," he said.
Best practice tips
Somanathan said that while brands and media agencies do adopt stringent processes to define their blacklists, it typically ends up being exact matching of keywords rather than the context in which they occur.
In spite of doing all things right, a brand might still end up in sub-optimal environments, due to the non-exhaustive nature of the guardrails.
"In such cases responding with agility and authenticity will help the brand recover quickly in the hearts and minds of their audiences,” said Somanathan. He also outlined some best practice tips in the industry.
- Layer-in context in addition to the blacklisting of keywords.
- Review and refresh the blacklisted words on a regular basis. This includes adding and deleting words from the list based on post campaign learnings.
- Consider whitelisting content environment and keywords if the brand operates in highly regulated or critical sectors.
- For some brands and categories, it might be prudent for media buys to be run non-programmatically, through managed service models, with clear human oversight to the campaign implementation.
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