The case for advertisers to look again at newsbrands

Over the past year, the waters surrounding digital media have become thoroughly dark and muddied, particularly for marketers seeking to secure brand safety while also understanding and boosting return on investment.

The industry’s strongest indictment yet came earlier this month from Unilever’s Keith Weed, who threatened to withdraw advertising from platforms that “create division in society”, when speaking at the Interactive Advertising Bureau conference. Weed’s speech is a stark warning to the digital media landscape, laying bare the erosion of trust from both consumers and advertisers.

It’s indisputable that the rise of digital media has offered a plethora of opportunities for marketers, radically changing the media landscape, as well as the ways in which companies interact with consumers. Programmatic ad-buying has fundamentally transformed the game and the way we think about audience segmentation and targeted advertising. Yet concerns around digital measurement, transparency and accountability pose a tangible threat to both advertisers and media owners.

Fears about the sustainability of reliance on digital advertising, and in particular the Facebook-Google duopoly, have understandably heightened over the past 12 months. We’ve seen adverts from the UK government, blue-chip consumer brands and powerful media agencies appear alongside extremist and exploitative content on YouTube; metrics on how consumers are interacting with content being grossly miscalculated; and internet trolls, bots, and fake news sites attempt to tear apart the fabric of the free press.

Indeed, at Dmexco in September last year, Procter & Gamble’s global chief brand officer, Marc Pritchard, described 2017 as the year in which “the bloom came off the rose for digital media because of the substantial waste in what has become a murky, non-transparent, even fraudulent supply chain”. Pritchard also revealed that P&G had cut more than $100m in spending on digital advertising – and still delivered its sales growth objectives.

In this landscape, and amid growing consumer backlash, how can brands and media agencies ensure that their high quality advertising content appears in brand-safe environments while also delivering value and measurable ROI?

The answer lies in re-energising marketers’ belief in the profitable growth that can be driven by engaging with responsible, established print and digital newsbrands. Trusted newsbrands have both an ethical and a commercial duty to ensure that they remain a transparent, brand-safe environment for advertisers. And in an age where volume is key, print and digital newsbrands actually reach more adults in the UK than Google, according to Newsworks. Among the 18-34 years old population – a generation traditionally seen as having parted with ‘old’ media – no less than 93% connects with a newsbrand over a month, the highest score for any age group. It’s time to rethink strategies that count on the tired perception that millennials aren’t engaged by traditional media.

While Facebook has rightly faced criticism for exaggerating the ‘potential reach’ of target demographics, the nature of publishing high quality news content means that many established newsbrands reach both enviable and measurable readerships. Newspapers, in particular, frequently boast high access to distinct, affluent social grades, as well as occupying a uniquely powerful position of influence among their audience, cultivated by years of establishing a reputation built on relevant, impactful and accurate editorial content. Research released last July by Lumen, which provides eye tracking data, found that ads are 80% more likely to be seen on newsbrand sites, and get noticed in around half the time when compared with non-newsbrand sites.

Additionally, while audiences may now spend longer periods of time engaging with social media and online content, time spent with print offers far greater engagement since readers are less likely to be distracted, instead lingering over the written word. This holds especially true for freesheet newspapers like ours, distributed for free at key transport hubs, and picked up by commuters looking to fill their journey by familiarizing themselves with the day’s headlines.

Marketers, long under pressure to prove their department’s ROI, are increasingly reverting to the realisation that established newsbrands need to remain at the heart of a sustainable, effective media mix. In particular, the advantages of print are once again becoming apparent. A November 2017 study on the impact of media investment from Ebiquity and Gain Theory, commissioned by Thinkbox, the first of its kind, found that print is responsible for 18% of all advertising-generated profit, the second highest proportion out of eleven advertising mediums (after TV), at an average ad-generated profit ROI over three years of £2.43 per pound spent. This was found to be far ahead of online display, which delivered an average profit ROI of £0.84 over three years, contributing just 1% of total ad-generated profit.

Keith Weed, in his IAB speech, outlined the “critical separation of how people trust social media and more ‘traditional’ media”, citing statistics showing that double the number of people in the US trust traditional media as opposed to social. Responsible newsbrands retain this distinct advantage over the “swamp” of the digital supply chain – consumers continue to trust our content when their faith in digital and social is waning.

Publications that have built up a trusted reputation over the course of several years are increasingly offering a greater diversity of product options, such as content marketing opportunities for brands to engage with readers as thought leaders. The publication of this kind of thought leadership content by a respected newsbrand, either online or in print, invokes a level of legitimacy that cannot be replicated simply by posting a blog on a corporate website or social platform, bolstering the credibility of brands and individuals within companies.

However, despite the unceasing quality of our content amid an increasingly murky online environment, we, and our peers, clearly face immense challenges from the duopoly and beyond. As an industry, we know that this is an issue that is not going to go away. As such, it’s up to us as publishers to help marketers understand how centering established newsbrands as a vital part of the media mix can help reach guaranteed, desirable demographics, positively build brands, and ultimately boost ROI.

Jens Thorpe is chief executive of City AM

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