It’s a Mad Mad Ad World

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How much of a measurable difference could the placement of an ad really make? Would it be recognized by humans, or humanoids? Integral Ad Science joined forces with Neuro-Insight to find out just how much of an impression an ad’s environment really makes on the target audience. Placing your ad in a high-quality environment could lead to a 30% increase in recognition. Are your ads in the right place?

Thanks to social media, news sites, and even online shopping, content is being created and published at an exponential rate. Data shows that in 2005, only about 0.1 zettabytes of content was readily accessible online and yet, by 2025, it is estimated that 165 ZB of information will be available worldwide. With all of this online interconnectivity, and with that much exposure, it is imperative that brands deliver the right impressions to their audiences.

The Blame Game

But it gets even worse: A study shows that consumers tend to assume that advertisers intentionally place ads next to unsuitable content. Participants were four times less likely think a brand cared about them after seeing the brand in the context of inappropriate content.

That means that there are steeper consequences for a failed engagement when ads are poorly placed within the ever-growing digital landscape. Amidst this perfect storm of brand risk and exposure, we turned to science for a path into the neurological processes that cause this effect, and a path forward for advertisers.

Our Study

IAS combined our expertise in ad tech with the advanced technology of Neuro-Insight to map the brain activity of participants while they consumed a series of mobile advertisements lasting 30 minutes. The ads were placed in either a high-quality or low-quality environment in order to gauge the effect of a mobile environment over brand perception. Data was collected by using Steady State Topography (SST), a proprietary technology that tracks and records brain activity in real-time. The research supported what has been assumed for years, but without evidential proof: that ad context has a striking influence on favorability, engagement, and memorability.


Ads seen on high quality sites generated a very positive reaction. In fact, they were perceived 74% more likable than the same ad seen on low quality sites. Negative reactions though, were experienced with 9% greater emotional intensity, creating a more lasting impact and memory on the consumer. Therefore, the risk of misplacing an ad outweighs the benefit of increasing your views. Context matters.


In an age when engagement is one of the most essential metrics for ad impact, over half of all marketers are willing to increase their ad spend where they know their brand will be safe. Why? Audiences on high-quality sites registered 20% higher engagement than they did on low-quality sites.


An indicator that you have successfully broken through the noise is when a consumer transfers your brand from short term to long term memory. This moment also correlates with decision making and purchase intent. Our research has added a practical way advertisers can help their ads reach memorability: by appearing in high quality environments. Ads placed on high quality sites were 30% more memorable than low quality sites, offering a more conducive environment for long term brand recall.

Not only does appearing alongside low-quality content spark a negative emotional reaction, but it also decreases engagement and ability to recall the ad. Thus, a consumers’ intent to purchase is essentially lost. The risk of appearing next to unsuitable content is growing, as the rate of content creation is rising. Advertisers want to reach the right people, in the right location. If consumers assume advertisers intentionally place their ads, advertisers must consider brand safety and brand suitability at the forefront of all ad buying decisions.

Download the Halo Effect study to see how your ads affect their brains.

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