Respondents Say Most “Controversial” News Content Appropriate for Ads;

83% More Aware of Brand Safety Issues Than Year Ago

The historic confluence of inflammatory events over the last year - from COVID-19 to racial justice protests, the nation’s economic crisis, and election controversies – appears to have dramatically elevated consumer focus on brand safety issues, with 83% of respondents saying they were more aware of brand safety issues than they were a year ago.

What Topics of News Coverage Should Advertisers Block for Their Ads, if Any?

(Percent of Respondents Who Said Each Type of Content Should Be Blocked)

Less Appropriate Block? More Appropriate Block?
Mass shootings in schools or other locations 38.7% Firearms legislation or policy 21.7%
Violent riots or civil unrest 33.5% Peaceful marches or protests 16.3%
Incidents of police brutality 31.8%    
COVID-19 deaths and tragedies 29.9% COVID-19 societal impact 20.9%
Controversial political figures 27.6% Plane crashes 23.8%


Notably, 40% of respondents said all news coverage should be appropriate for ads.

“The past year has been a witches’ brew of toxic brand safety challenges across public health, economic, and political topics, and – happily – this survey showed the success of our industry’s efforts to set higher standards and professionalize the field of brand safety,” said Mike Zaneis, CEO of the TAG and co-founder of BSI. “Rather than clumsy and narrow traditional approaches that focused on specific keywords or solely on ad adjacency, we are now looking holistically at these challenges in a nuanced, consumer-centric way.”

Among other findings of the survey:

  • The large majority of respondents (87%) said it is very or somewhat important for advertisers to make sure their ads don't appear near dangerous, offensive, or inappropriate content.

  • An overwhelming majority said they would reduce their spending on a product they regularly buy that appeared near offensive, illegal, or dangerous content, including Nazi propaganda (86%), terrorist recruiting videos (90%), pirated content (83%), or malware (92%). 
  • Among potential topics of brand-unsafe content, consumers are most strongly opposed to ads running near the "fearsome four" of hate speech (74%), pornography (68%), violence (63%), and illegal drugs (68%).
  • Consumers define brand safety broadly, including ad-related piracy and malware, with more than half saying that advertisers should prevent their ads from running near stolen/pirated movies or TV shows (54%) and unsafe or hacked/unsafe websites (66%).
  • Respondents felt that responsibility for brand safety is broadly shared across the ad tech ecosystem with 66% assigning responsibility to the advertiser, 59% to the ad agency, 42% to the website owner, and 59% to the technology provider.
  • The vast majority of consumers (85%) said they would feel more positive about a company that required all of its ad partners to be independently certified to meet high safety standards for its ads.

“Brand safety is an issue of consumer perception, and this survey highlighted how nuanced consumers have become in their evaluation of brand risks,” said Neal Thurman, co-founder of BSI. “On topic after topic, consumers differentiated between more controversial news coverage and related topics they felt were appropriate for advertising with a significant plurality saying all news coverage should be cleared for ads. Similarly, consumers looked beyond traditional content issues to include other risks like malvertising and digital piracy in their evaluation of brand safety.”


Consumers Maintain Broad View of Brand Safety-Related Issues

(Percent of Respondents Who Said Each Type of Content Should Be Blocked by Advertisers)

  2020 2019
Unsafe or Hacked Websites 65.8% 72.8%
Stolen/Pirated Movies or TV Shows 54.2% 52.5%

In September, TAG launched the ad industry’s first global brand safety certification program with more than 110 major companies participating at launch, including Amazon, Facebook, Google, GroupM, Havas, Kroger, Omnicom Media Group, Twitter, and Walmart. The program sets rigorous standards for companies across the supply chain to demonstrate their commitment to brand safety.

The results of this year’s survey are consistent with findings from a survey conducted on similar topics by TAG and BSI last year. The full results of the 2020 TAG/BSI Consumer Brand Safety Survey can be found here.


Download "2020 TAG & BSI Brand Safety Survey"

Read the Press Release