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Dipstick: How damaging can a wrongly placed ad be?

In the wake of the recent content fiasco on YouTube, tried to understand from digital experts whether brands get significantly affected because of wrong ad placements and if the impact is long lasting

Dipstick: How damaging can a wrongly placed ad be?

In the wake of the recent content fiasco on YouTube, tried to understand from digital experts whether brands get significantly affected because of wrong ad placements and if the impact is long lasting

Raushni Bhagia & Archit Ambekar | Mumbai | March 27, 2017


An advertisement is an important means to sketch an image for any brand. An advertisement engages with the consumers and drives sales in a subtle manner. It is advertisements that help brands in building a positive yet strong image for themselves. The medium that carries these ads and disseminates it to the target consumers is equally important. What happens when you place an ad at a wrong place? It may be a wrong media platform or a wrong location on the right media platform.

Consider the ad in the picture that is trying to convince consumers to buy burgers but the healthcare brand’s ad, right above it, talks about how diabetes is a rising issue. While this is an example from outdoor media, digital is all the more dangerous, merely because of the reach that it has.

In a recent example, internet giant Google had to apologise to advertisers for YouTube’s content fiasco. The video platform had wrongly placed a few ads next to extremist videos, leading to a lot of brands withdrawing advertising from Google’s platforms. If the brands going away from the ad platform were big names like Llyods, Marks & Spencer and HSBC, the matter was serious enough for apology. To add to Google and YouTube’s woes, the British government suspended its advertising on YouTube after some public sector ads appeared next to videos carrying homophobic and anti-semitic messages. tried to understand whether brands get significantly impacted because of wrong ad placements. Is the impact long lasting? We spoke to digital experts as to how damaging a wrongly placed ad can be and here is what they had to say.

Nigel Hollis, Chief Global Analyst, Kantar Millward Brown

It is clearly an issue. Media companies are probably going to use it as bargaining chip to negotiate better deals. It's not good at all. Hence this needs to be fixed and it can affect a brand negatively. Placing ads beside inappropriate content can have a serious impact on the brand’s image. A brand has to also be alert about the websites that carry its ads.

Rajan Anandan Rajan Anandan

Rajan Anandan, Vice-President, Google India & South-East Asia

Over the past week, a few concerns that have been raised, outside India, about brand safety on YouTube. We have very strict policies that define where your ads should appear. And in a vast majority of cases, our policies are true. But at times like these we didn't get it right and we do acknowledge that. Brand safety is extremely critical. And we know that even one ad impression that appears on inappropriate content is a major issue for brands. We're committed to doing better. Earlier this week, we announced a major set of changes that will make our brand safety measures, even better. The changes will fall into three areas -- raising the bar of eye policies, increasing the brands safety controls, and accelerate reviews and improve transparency.

Prithviraj Banerjee Prithviraj Banerjee

Prithviraj Banerjee, Head of Agency, India at DigitasLBi

Brands have clear objectives and goals, and there’s a lot of science behind the communication and media decisions made. Precious resources are spent conceptualising, executing and broadcasting the perfect piece of communication. A misplaced piece of communication, despite being done unintentionally, can be detrimental, leading to many repercussions. Depending on the situation, negatives could range from the core message being lost in a sea of controversy to a complete loss of brand credibility. The worst case could lead to a brand’s ethical intentions being questioned.

In today’s hyper-connected digital world, any of the prior possibilities stated run the risk of spreading like wildfire, damaging the original good intentions of the brand. It is critical that communication experts and publishers work together to ensure the greater good of any brand they work on.

Muddassar Memon Muddassar Memon

Muddassar Memon, AVP, Creative & Social, iProspect India

A wrongly placed ad on a digital platform can be extremely disastrous for the brand and have long-term ramifications in some cases. It could amount to severe backlash through negative word of mouth, also hurting consumer sentiments and often even leading to a loss of loyal customers. At iProspect India, when we run display campaigns, we pick and choose the sites for targeting and also select the particular areas in which the ads will appear, ensuring strong value and return on investment to the brand. While lateral targeting, we usually deep dive into the campaign and check every website on which our ads are being placed. Practices like these can help avoid untowardly scenarios such as errors in ad placement.

Brijesh Jacob, Joint Managing Director, 22Feet

Wrong placement will have a definite backlash for the brand, but the content of the ad can cause more harm. If it's a case of a pretty harmless ad in the wrong situation, people will forget it sooner than later. But if a brand, for example has an ad that says 'Have a Happy Good Friday' and bungs in an offer, can face much severe backlash. And not just from the over-enthusiastic folks on certain social platforms. Another case in point can be the whole Tommy Hilfiger boycott as a brand based on some alleged comments by the designer. Yes, the platform did play a role but it was the content that did the damage. So, along with the placement and timing, the content of the ad is also equally important.

Kamal Amesur Kamal Amesur

Kamal Amesur, ECD, Hungama Digital Services

The extent of damage caused by misplaced ads is worse than one can imagine. It tarnishes a brand’s image by making the consumer think less of it when seen along with offensive or unfit content. Brand safety in digital advertising across all channels has been a concern for long but very little has been done about it though. It is time publishers and media houses set the highest standards in terms of accountability, transparency and audit to avoid such fiascos in the future. And, until there are improved systems to detect, identify and eliminate controversial content, clients should reassess their campaign planning and proceed with caution.

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