Political ads are hurting brand ad effectiveness

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Election 2016 will be over soon, and the coming weeks will no doubt see a flurry of ads as the campaigns and their supporters make a final effort to influence voters.

This year’s election has been an unusual one. The Republican candidate, Donald Trump, has eschewed traditional advertising to an extent never before seen, instead relying on earned media, much of it negative. The Democrat candidate, Hillary Clinton, has spent hundreds of millions of dollars, much of it to arguably questionable effect.

While this presidential elections will no doubt be a boon to media sellers despite the unusual circumstances, brand advertisers may not be faring so well according to research from J. Walter Thompson and Forethought, which found that brand ads lose their oomph when they follow political ads.

The research indicates that brand ads displayed adjacent to political ads see a 34% hit to brand reputation, a 32% decrease in the perception of brand value, a 26% drop in purchase intent, and a 24% decline in product quality perception.

Ken Roberts, the CEO of Forethought, explained the findings in simple terms:

My brand ad follows your loud political ad, and my positive message gets lost. This has a profound detrimental impact on evaluations of subsequent brand advertising, of the brand itself, and ultimately, future purchase intent.

Is programmatic to blame?

Even political ads that contained seemingly positive messages had a detrimental effect on the brand ads they were displayed alongside. “Even political advertising with positive messages generates negative emotions in consumers. And the negative priming effect holds true even for very product-specific attributes, such as taste,” Mark Truss, J. Walter Thompson’s global director of brand intelligence, stated.

This probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to brand advertisers. According to research by comScore, ads on “premium” publisher sites are more effective than ads on sites with less stature. The theory is that advertisers benefit from the perceived quality of publishers’ brands and content and it seems reasonable to hypothesize that a similar dynamic could be at work when it comes to how ads displayed before or after each other affect consumers’ perceptions.

Unfortunately for brand advertisers, not only does the growing use of programmatic ad buying for both digital and traditional ads make it more difficult control to control where their ads are being displayed, it also makes it virtually impossible for them to control what ads are being displayed before, after and near theirs.

Fortunately, Election 2016 will soon be in the past, but the apparent impact of political ads on brand ad effectiveness is something that brand advertisers will probably want to explore and consider more broadly going forward as it’s possible that non-political ads have the potential for similar effects.

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