News Flash: 88 percent of consumers say they will not do business with a brand if that brand becomes associated with negative content, is adjacent to negative content or is placed on sites they consider to be questionable or counter to their beliefs.

Apparently, this data point from the CMO Council’s review into the impact of digital advertising experiences and consumer purchasing intentions has people confused. And by people, I mean marketers.

Why do I jump to that conclusion? Within moments of Keith Weed’s warning that Unilever would pull advertising from social “swamps” that fail to clean up hate-filled and divisive content, marketers, media and passersby alike were questioning why Unilever would take this step.

So I say again: 88 percent of consumers will STOP DOING BUSINESS WITH A BRAND if they see that brand’s advertising appear in, on, near or next to content they deem as offensive, distasteful or otherwise aggravating. Let’s also consider this:

  • 75 percent of consumers told the CMO Council that their concerns over fake news have escalated in recent days.
  • 66 percent say that their respect of brands they once loved has decreased because of encounters with advertising on questionable sites or adjacent to questionable content.
  • 60 percent say that offensive, divisive and derogatory content has forced them to make active decisions to seek out trusted sources of content.

In the wake of the Unilever warning, I was asked over and over again, “But customers understand that sometimes brands can’t control where the ad appears…they get how the internet works, right?”

Here is the short answer: No, they don’t. Consumers aren’t filled with endless second chances that can be renewed and refreshed with a simple “I’m sorry.” They don’t understand—or care—about programmatic placement. What they do care about is where and how the brands they choose to do business with are connected and presented in the world around them.

It is easy for us all to understand and see how brands can bow to pressure from customers in the wake of massive earth-shaking events. Consider the current maelstrom around the NRA and the pressure that brands are under to sever business ties with the often-controversial group. On one hand, there are vocal, loyal supporters of the association that value the discounts delivered by brands that had cut deals to deliver perks and promotions as part of their membership. Then there is the far larger and potentially deafening crowd that stands in opposition to what the NRA represents—voices taking to social media and announcing that they will no longer do business with brands that stand with the association.

It is easy to see how brands need to make public decisions around associations and affiliations in times like these. What is harder to see and plan for are the small moments—when an ad for an item you had no intention of buying but clicked on accidentally stalks you forever; that moment when a brand you love appears on a site you loathe; or that time you got charged for clicks when your skincare ad appeared on a porn site because it matched the keywords “smooth skin.”

In the case of Unilever, continuing to be associated with cruel, divisive and hateful dialogue is in direct opposition to Dove, Unilever’s biggest product brand that generated a reported $5.45 billion in 2016 filings and the brand behind a global campaign for “Real  Beauty.” It should not be a shock to hear the warning. In fact, every publisher, network and community should be issued a warning that is as clear and as resonant as the warning our customers are giving to all of us: Clean it up, or we are getting out.

And know this about the warning being issued by our customers: Yes, they will stop doing business with us. And no, we won’t necessarily see it coming. When asked how consumers respond to advertising in both positive and negative adjacencies and destinations, 64 percent admitted to responding better and transacting more immediately when they have seen brand ads in trusted channels. But when they see ads in negative positions or destinations, only 9 percent will openly complain about the incident, but 88 percent say they will stop doing business with the brand.

Your customers will leave you without really ever saying a word. How’s that for a warning?

Till next month!

Liz (@lizkmiller)

  • Marketing
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