Brands have always been as careful about placing their ads near certain types of content. One major casualty, specifically, is hard news, which with all its controversies and tragedies, may not be seen as “brand safe.” But maybe that’s an unwarranted concern after all.

The Daily Mail, an entertainment and gossip site, has been increasingly pushing into hard news, so North America CEO Jon Steinberg has been on a crusade lately to try to change that practice.

“Why are publishers not opening bureaus, why is hard news under such pressure? You might want to start with the fact that many advertisers resist running against the news,” he said.

Steinberg has been fighting back. First he wrote a post on Medium called “News is Not Porn or File Sharing,” which outlined the problem. “I want brands to be proud of sponsoring the news,” he wrote. “And not feel a sense of fear or shame when their ads run next to a negative world event.”

Then, he commissioned research to determine how consumers feel about ads on the Daily Mail.

And (surprise!) the results overwhelmingly supported the Daily Mail. In a poll of 403 readers by Survata, nearly twice as many (86) said that stories have no reflection on the advertising placed next to them than those said the stories do reflect on them (49). Another 106 people said they appreciate the advertiser paying for the news.

In a second survey of 1,196 people by Millward Brown for the Daily Mail, an overwhelming 95 percent of respondents said serious or graphic news doesn’t change their opinion of advertisers on the page.

“The results came back verifying what I hoped they would, which is that people want advertisers to provide for the purveyance of news,” Steinberg said.

Brad Adgate, senior vp of research for Horizon Media, said the survey results were pretty positive and should change the opinion of agencies that consider news too risk-averse. But he offered a lot of caveats. The survey sizes may be too small to be applied broadly, and he would want to know things that could impact the results, such as demographics of the people surveyed, what was happening in the news cycle during the survey and if their answers would change based on the type of news they were shown.

“Who are the readers, what’s their main source of their news?” he asked. “There’s a lot of areas that need to be fleshed out.”

Steinberg acknowledged he’s got a dog in this fight, but added that he hopes the Daily Mail surveys will be the start of what will be more research in this area. “I have a cause and position on this. I’m not an objective entity. I would hope other people run surveys — it can’t be any worse than it is now.”

And if nothing else, as advertisers increase their focus on Gen Y, they might loosen up a bit, given younger consumers watch and read more risqué content than their older counterparts. “If you’re after millennials, you’re not going to be as stringent about where you put your ads,” Adgate said.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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