TAG/BSI Survey Finds Consumers Savvy About Brand Safety Issues

Posted by Brand Safety Institute • Dec 15, 2020 12:14:54 PM

Respondents Say Most "Controversial" News Content Appropriate for Ads; 83% More Aware of Brand Safety Issues Than Year Ago

WASHINGTON, DC – December 14, 2020 – Consumers express a nuanced appreciation of the complexities of the brand safety decisions faced by advertisers, according to a new survey conducted by the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) and Brand Safety Institute (BSI) among more than a thousand US adults via SurveyMonkey.

For example, instead of blocking controversial news content, 40% of consumers said all news content should be appropriate for ads, and the remainder differentiated between stories involving violence and death and those about policy, societal changes, and peaceful protests on the same issues. In addition, consumers defined the issue of brand safety broadly, including not only inappropriate ad placements but also ad-related malware and ads placed near pirated content.

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


More Appropriate


Mass shootings in schools or other locations


Firearms legislation or policy


Violent riots or civil unrest


Peaceful marches or protests


Incidents of police brutality



COVID-19 deaths and tragedies


COVID-19 societal impact


Controversial political figures


Plane crashes


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)




Unsafe or Hacked Websites



Stolen/Pirated Movies or TV Shows



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.


The survey of 1,143 adults in the United States was conducted via SurveyMonkey from November 28-29, 2020. The survey had a margin of error of +/-3 percent at a 95 percent confidence interval.

About the Trustworthy Accountability Group

The Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) is the leading global certification program fighting criminal activity and increasing trust in the digital advertising industry. TAG advances its mission of eliminating fraudulent traffic, facilitating the sharing of threat intelligence, and promoting brand safety by connecting industry leaders, analyzing threats, and sharing best practices worldwide. The 600+ member TAG community include the world's largest and most influential brands, agencies, publishers, and ad tech providers. TAG is the first and only Information Sharing and Analysis Organization (ISAO) for the digital advertising industry. This U.S. Department of Homeland Security designation means TAG is the primary forum for sharing threat intelligence in our industry. For more information on TAG, please visit tagtoday.net.

About the Brand Safety Institute

The Brand Safety Institute is a digital advertising industry initiative to professionalize the work of brand protection. Through its research, education, and certification programs, the Brand Safety Institute gives ad industry executives the expertise and skills they need to minimize brand risks and capitalize on brand opportunities in the digital advertising supply chain. Through its Brand Safety Officer certification program, the Brand Safety Institute helps leaders set the highest standards for brand protection, learn new and emerging best practices, and build an industry-wide community of brand safety peers. More information about the Brand Safety Institute can be found at brandsafetyinstitute.com.


Topics: Press Release, Brand Safety, Consumer Experience, Research