Can 2018 make the Internet great again?

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Recently, I was invited to an event run by BIMA and by Digitas LBI grandly titled ‘Making the Internet Great Again’. At times in 2017 that’s seemed like an impossible task. For advertising in particular, trust is a serious problem. One quarter of all Europeans have set up an adblocker. 'Fake news' is the phrase of 2017 according to Collins. Brand safety concerns have seen brands withdraw advertising from YouTube, Daily Mail and The Sun.

There is no quick fix, but a manifesto based on responsibility and conscience, could help to turn the internet around in 2018 and truly make it great again.

Permission and consent

Using data to relentlessly chase people round the internet is now the norm. We’ve all experienced a banner ad for flights, shoes or a car following our every online move for weeks. On every device. On every platform.

To redress this we need to ask people if they are happy with being advertised to at brand and category level. How often are they happy to be shown an ad? Once? Twice? Five times? The obvious risk is lack of salience. The ‘rule of seven’ has long been extolled as the formula for advertising frequency – people need to see the same ad seven times before remembering it. But would this reduce if a consumer had willingly opted into communications from that brand? Would that person lean forward and engage with a curated advertising experience controlled by the individual?

GDPR is a step towards this. Some brands see it as an existential threat. Wetherspoons have deleted their entire database! But it’s an enormous opportunity for brands to get on the front foot. Brands should be communicating with people on their databases in the lead up to May 2018, demonstrating what it means. Showing they are responsible may lead to a much better value exchange.

Don’t exist in a vacuum

There is an enormous problem in the media supply chain. Media Bounty clients such as KraftHeinz pulled spend from YouTube earlier this year to ensure their adverts did not appear next to any terrorist content. This has sparked a wider debate about advertising and context. YouTube are now under pressure for playing ads next to content featuring children. Google has for too long sat on its hands and waited for advertisers to pull money before acting.

Stop Funding Hate was formed to put pressure on advertisers to not place adverts in newspapers who seek to divide society. The UN has identified the Mail, the Sun and the Express as particularly hostile to migrants. While Peter Hitchens wrote an article in the Mail recently with the headline – ‘What will women gain for all this squawking about sex pests? A Niqab.’ Even for the Mail this was breathtaking. The implication being that any woman who has fallen victim to sexual harassment shouldn’t complain, otherwise they will be forced to cover their face, presumably by an Islamic revolution in the UK.

To make a full disclosure here – I am an unpaid advisor to Stop Funding Hate. I was motivated to help by the fact that a neighbour of mine, a father with a 3-month-old baby was beaten up in his local pub because he is originally from Turkey. The sort of rhetoric in the public discourse is endangering people’s lives.

Brands do not just have a responsibility to their shareholders. Brands are owned, run, marketed and bought by real people with hopes, dreams and fears. The very least we should be expecting from these brands is that advertising is bought and placed consciously with YouTube, Facebook and newspaper titles like the Mail.

Filter bubbles

On the subject of social division, it is abundantly clear that the social media platforms are literally an apparatus of cognitive dissonance. Confirmation bias is rife. Newsfeeds only show us material that chimes with our own world view. The more we engage with what we like, the more we are shown what we like. The digital duopoly, Google and Facebook, are expected to account for 84% of global digital advertising revenue in 2017 according to Group M. This kind of market dominance in the dissemination of information means that they must wake up to the responsibility to contribute to changing the partisanship of the last few years. Maybe a button saying ‘A Different View’ should be implemented on news and comment posts so it is easy to be exposed to alternative ways of thinking. As long as posts and articles are well referenced we would all benefit from a more rounded view of the issues we face.

Fake news

The phrase of 2017. This one should be really simple in my view. If a story is proved to be inaccurate then the publisher should be compelled by legislation to publish a retraction. The retraction must be the same size, position on the website and must be up for as long as the original piece. If this does not happen within a certain timeframe Google, Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin should agree to blacklist the site. I believe this would solve the problem very swiftly. Google have already moved to downrank Sputnik and Russia Today to much protestation. Who will be next?

Viewability and ad fraud

In 2016, 41.9bn Euros were spent across Europe on Digital, but according to the most recent figures from Moat, less than 55% of these of all digital ads are actually seen by real people. This is just not good enough. Defenders of digital advertising often argue that print ads will not be seen if those publications are only half-read. How can we quantify the number of television viewers who second screen or make a cup of tea or when the ads are on? This is one of the big challenges that the big research agencies are working on at the moment. The major difference is that we can actually measure viewability in digital advertising. Publishers and advertisers must come together to solve this problem. Brands should absolutely not be spending nearly half their budget on ads that are not even seen by a real human.

Creative

Digital creative must be radically rethought. Too many brands are still putting lots of media behind the 30-second ad that was originally designed for TV. Facebook’s most memorable take out from 2017’s Social Media Week was focusing creative and media resource on short form video. It sounds like I’m stating the obvious but spending lots money on putting your TV ad on social just because you spent lots of money on creating your ad does not make sense. Publishers, brands and agencies must also get past the interruptive collection of banner ads that litter pretty much every website. People do not really like banner ads. Surely less is more. More beautiful and personalised; less whacking people over the head with repetitive messages in every possible banner.

Short-termism

The latest IPA report ‘Marketing Effectiveness in the Digital Era’ is excoriating marketers over investing in short-term activation tactics. They argue that focusing on short-term activation creates the illusion that rational advertising is more effective, when in actual fact emotional advertising is more effective over the long term. The damage is compounded by the short-term focus undermining the case for creativity.

The report reaffirms the golden rule of spending 60% on long term brand building and 40% on activation and concludes: ”Observing the 60:40 rule remains essential to get the most out of the synergies between brand building and activation.”

The opportunities in digital for long-term brand growth are enormous, but restoring trust is critical if we are to maximise the opportunity it presents us. Clearly I have only scratched the surface here so I’d welcome a ‘different view’ from outside my own filter bubble. Feel free to get in touch.

Jake Dubbins is managing director of Media Bounty

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Jake Dubbins

Jake Dubbins is chief executive officer of creative social media agency Media Bounty.

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