Stop Paying The Negativity Tax: Ad Adjacency Matters More Than Ever Post-COVID

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There’s plenty of bad news in the world right now. In this opinion piece, Pinterest CMO Andréa Mallard reminds advertisers of the power of positivity.

More nights last spring than I’d like to admit, I found myself ‘doom-scrolling’: Mindlessly thumbing through my feeds full of scary statistics, grim updates and fear-inducing ads. It was exhausting—and did nothing to help my mounting anxiety.

Turns out, it’s not helping brands, either. Anger and divisiveness may encourage people to scroll (and troll!)… but it doesn’t get them to buy. Our latest research shows that negative environments make people less likely to remember, less likely to trust and less likely to purchase from brands. In other words: Negative online spaces are draining your brand dollars.

There’s long been a debate among CMOs about whether context actually matters. Our research says it does. In fact, in a post-COVID world, ad adjacency matters more than ever. Gone are the days when people will turn a blind eye to the environment in which your messaging appears. As one research participant put it: “When I see brands in negative and unsafe places, I start to lose my confidence and trust in them that they come from a good place. As a result, I’m less likely to purchase from them.”

So what does this mean for brands? In a time where ‘doom-scrolling’ has become part of our vernacular—how do you evade the negativity tax?

Find a more positive place online.

The majority of 2,000 survey participants agree that if a brand shows up next to negative content, they assume that the brand has endorsed it. As a result, their perception of the brand decreases. Showing up in safe, positive spaces is no longer just a moralistic argument. Your brand can’t afford to show up in a negative environment.

Keep in mind that platform positivity starts with policy. The most positive places online don’t happen by accident—they happen because of proactive policy decisions made by leadership. For example, even on platforms built on joyful dance videos, you’ll find anti-LGBT policy and white supremacist content. Don’t just look to the user-generated content to determine a platform’s sentiment. It’s just as important to consider what the platform doesn’t allow.

We’re proud of our leadership in our policy decisions, but we know that it is an industry effort to improve digital safety and create positive advertising surfaces that don’t compromise on effectiveness. That’s why we are thrilled to join the Global Alliance for Responsible Media and collectively work alongside top advertisers, agencies, media companies and platforms to better serve and protect consumers.

Imbue your ads with positivity

Once you’re showing up on a more positive platform, you’ll have more impact. But you’ll also need to give your ads a positive spin to boost business results. A real-life example of this is Shapermint, a DTC shapewear and intimates marketplace that recently ran a campaign on Pinterest. While some brands see our ad policies as a constraint, Shapermint saw them as an opportunity to unlock even more positive creative, and as a result, more effective advertising. Together with Shapermint, we worked to create ads featuring women of all body types and straightforward sizing cues.

The result? The brand’s performance metrics skyrocketed. In fact, this approach was so effective that approximately 90 per cent of all Shapermint digital ads across all channels now follow the Pinterest standards and reinforce Shapermint’s body positivity mission.

Positive ads in positive spaces drive positive performance.

People are tired of toxic spaces online. And it’s no longer just a consumer-centered argument: When ads show up in a more positive environment online, they can drive impact at every stage of the purchase funnel. Whether you’re building brand awareness, consumer trust, or driving conversions, it pays to be positive. Literally.

Methodology

  1. Partisan provocation: The role of partisan news use and emotional responses in political information sharing on social media (Hasell & Weeks, 2016);
  2. Store environment and consumer purchase behavior: Mediating role of consumer emotions (Sherman, Mathur, & Smith, 1997)
  3. Do violent video games impair the effectiveness of in-game advertisements? The impact of gaming environment on brand recall, brand attitude, and purchase intention (Yoo & Peña, 2011)
  4. Marketing a health Brand on Facebook: Effects of reaction icons and user comments on brand attitude, trust, purchase intention, and eWOM intention (Lee, Phua, & Wu, 2020).
  5. Usertesting.com, US adults and self-reported weekly social media users, July 2020
  6. Morning Consult and Pinterest, US Adults, July 2020
  7. https://wfanet.org/garm
  8. Shapermint internal data and Pinterest internal data, US, April-May 2020
  9. Kantar, 2020 Political Ad Spend Updated Projections, February 2020

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