Staff Reporters
Feb 7, 2023

'Grey' online content erodes ad effectiveness: study

Many Australian consumers associate brands with misaligned content around their communications, diminishing their message, according to a global study by Magna and Channel Factory.

Some examples of 'grey' online content straddle sport and entertainment, but with higher elements of risk, injury or violence.
Some examples of 'grey' online content straddle sport and entertainment, but with higher elements of risk, injury or violence.

Most of us will inevitably across different forms of dodgy content while surfing and scrolling online. Some of it might be clearly inappropriate, but a lot of it might fall into a 'grey' category where a video or graphic, while not totally unsuitable for all, might not be to your taste and isn't received well.

This 'grey' online content, which may include some level of risk, violence, controversy, or salaciousness can just as often be also misaligned with the brand content that appears around it. Now, a new study from IPG Mediabrands' research arm, Magna, along with partner Channel Factory, looks at its effects on brands after surveying 5,800 consumers in Australia, the US and U.K.

Not surprisingly, it found the effects were not good. More than a third of Aussie consumers (36%) felt that brands with ads adjacent to such content were supportive of it, though this perceived association ran much higher in the U.K. (49%) and US (41%).

Just as important however, were the diminished effects on brand recall and intent metrics. More consumers in all three markets recognised the brand messages when next to standard content rather than grey content. Persuasion metrics, such as search or purchase intent declined by 9% in Australia when video ads ran next to grey content. 

“Online video is an incredibly effective advertising channel for brand and performance," notes The Channel Factory's APAC managing director, Alex Littlejohn. "But this new research shows that not all video is born equal and savvy marketers need to be taking a broader view of brand safety to include brand suitability to make their budgets work even harder.

The effects of grey content were also seen to be more pronounced in certain brand verticals and with some audience demographics. Gen X adults were much less likely to be phased by the grey content, while millennials (-14%) and Gen Z adults (-12%) saw much stronger declines in their purchase intent when brands appeared next to questionable content. There was a higher expectation for brands in verticals like toys and financial services to steer clear of grey video, while beverage and fast-food brands might be able to get away with it more often. 

“Ad environments that fall into grey areas require careful judgment calls be made by brands and their agencies," notes Joshua Lowcock, UM's global chief media officer. "There isn’t always a one-size fits all solution as misaligned content for one brand could be a smart, under-leveraged opportunity for another. Put differently, what’s right for one brand isn’t always right for another.”

See The Art of Alignment: The Relationship Between Brand Personality and Content Appropriateness study here.

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