Time for a new media currency: the ‘T’ score

15 May 2017  |  Dominic Mills 
Time for a new media currency: the ‘T’ score

Dominic Mills wonders if clients and agencies will begin to factor in Trust Quotient scores when deciding where to place their ads. Plus: An idiot’s guide to the Havas/Vivendi deal.

When I first saw this now-ubiquitous Facebook ad in the press last week, I had mixed reactions.

That’s mixed as in a bit of scorn, some cynicism, derision...and a giggle.

To be honest, I feel slightly ashamed of my reactions, instinctive as they were. Maybe I’ve just become too cynical, too inclined to see what might be well-intentioned or honest actions in a negative light. But anyway...

The scorn: the ten tips Facebook offers for spotting fake news stories are laughably facile. The ad might as well have been headlined ‘A total F*@kwit’s Guide to Online Stuff’. Do the readers of Metro and some nationals really need this kind of lightweight advice?

The cynicism: this is a PR-friendly, sticking-lipstick-on-a-pig exercise to prove to the powers-that-be that Facebook takes the fight against fake news seriously. It’s saying ‘Please please Big Government, don’t regulate us and just because we run an ad like this don’t confuse us with proper media owners’.

The derision: since when is ‘skeptical’ spelt with a ‘k’. Oi! Don’t just run US ads here.

The giggle: why doesn’t someone hijack the ad? At the bottom - like this - you could just scribble ‘...Or why not just read a newspaper or a magazine. That would be a really easy way to avoid fake news.’ It could be sponsored jointly, say, by Magnetic and Newsworks.

Facebook fake news ad

But actually, there are two easy ways for Facebook to help stop the spread of fake news. First, prioritise quality sources of news in the feed. I can’t believe this is too hard to do if you believe, as Facebook evidently does, in the power of the algorithm.

An algorithm that prioritises trusted content sources surely cannot be too hard to build. And if Facebook is looking for clues how to do this, it could do worse than start with its 10 tips for spotting fake news.

Thus different publishers would have a different ‘T’ score - as in ‘T’ for trust. Premium publishers would have a higher ‘T’ - let’s say Trust Quotient (TQ) to give it a quasi-scientific name - than those who peddle the scuzzy stuff, and be rewarded by higher traffic and ad revenues.

Second, pay properly for it publisher-created content. That could create a virtuous circle, and the likes of the Guardian and the New York Times, which pulled out because they were getting zip for all their content, might recommit to Instant Articles.

Ah, you say, this is fantasy land. Maybe not. If you strip away all the white noise surrounding the crisis in the ad industry - and society as a whole - it comes down to trust.

Trust in government, trust in business, trust in the media, client trust in agencies, trust in the platforms...it’s slipping away.

It needs to be repaired, and one place to start is in the media, which is both the foundation of a healthy society and a healthy ad economy.

As luck would have it, I chaired a session last week for Magnetic, the magazine brand marketing body, at the PPA Festival. Our subject was trust.

One of the fascinating snippets that emerged came from Chris Broadbent, COO of Mediacom North, who noted that an increasing number of client briefs coming the agency’s way centred on the client desire to earn trust.

Clearly media choice plays a large part in that. Legacy media - by which I mean magazine brands, TV, newbrands and radio - start from a good position. By and large, although there is a spectrum, they are trusted by consumers. That halo effect, most people believe, transfers across to advertisers who use those media.

It’s the modern version of those ‘As seen on TV’ stickers brands used if they’d featured on some TV programme - the implicit message being that if it’s been on TV it must be ok.

The difficulty, of course, is that trust is hard to measure, and therefore there is currently no way of factoring it into the value of one medium over another - say content from premium publishers versus that of the shonky ones.

It was panellist James Wildman, lately of Trinity Mirror and just one month into his job as CEO of Hearst UK, who coined the term Trust Quotient, which he described as a score “grounded in data and proof points” - i.e. algorithmically driven.

Over time, one hopes, both clients and agencies would factor in TQ scores in deciding where to place their ads.

I may be jumping above my station here, but it seems as though a cross-industry initiative led by, for example, Magnetic and Newsworks, could start the ball rolling to create a TQ. As it gathers speed, other premium publishers could join in. And who knows, some of the platforms might chuck some money in too. A ‘Co-alition of the Concerned’, they might usefully call it.

When all is said and done, they’re on the same side.

An idiot’s guide to that Havas/Vivendi deal

A lot of industry brain power is going into figuring out the logic of last week’s news about a merger - takeover, I think - of telecoms-to-entertainment giant Vivendi and Havas as engineered by boss man Vincent Bollore.

Some of it is macro, and focuses on the broader picture of the blurring of lines between advertising and entertainment. Here’s a summary from Ad Age.

The rest of it is more micro, and is about the need for Havas - by far the smallest of the network conglomerates - to seek comfort in a larger group and access to capital with which to fund acquisitions.

Meanwhile the Oracle himself - aka Sir Martin - told the Drum last Friday that this was a “new model” - presumably of the kind others should watch closely.

It followed generally positive comments he made a year ago when the merger was first mooted. “I find it a example of someone who owns media, content and a telecoms platform, and an agency. It’s never been done before,” he said.

As a rule of thumb, when Sir Martin praises a competitor, it’s time for them to get worried, as indeed I think the staff of Havas should be. I bet most of them are thinking: ‘Oh no. Where does this leave us.”

However, as explanations for the deal go, I prefer to see it through the prism of family dynasties.

It goes something like this:

- Billionaire businessman (Vincent Bollore) buys controlling 60pc stake in Havas
- Billionaire businessman installs son (Yannick) as CEO of Havas
- Billionaire businessman buys 20pc-plus stake in Vivendi. Installs himself as chairman
- Billionaire businessman ‘persuades’ Vivendi to buy his stake in Havas
- Billionaire businessman crowns son Yannick as CEO and future chairman of Vivendi.

And there you have it. Compared to family, dynasty and legacy, m&a logic ain’t worth a thing.

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NigelJacklin, MD, Think Media Consultancy on 15 May 2017
“To pick up on Vic Davies comments...some Guardian readers may not trust the Mail...but then you'll hopefully reach them with an ad in The Guardian, not the Mail. The great thing about the UK and some other European newspaper markets is that we have a range of media so people can read one they affiliate with. As well as trust they are 'open' to what's in it...so a good environment for advertising. In old research (Media Brand Values) we also found a good level of trust in google...but that wasn't a trust in the content it led to...merely trust that a search would produce a result...an environment which is more focussed and purposive.”
VicDavies, Course Leader, Buckinghamshire New University on 15 May 2017
“Trust as a dimension, sounds good. But it still has to be bought, to be priced. And even digital these days talks about 'reach'. So numbers offered count . So cost, reach, trust. And what do you define as 'trust'? The message or the medium ? Do Guardian readers trust the Mail ? Possibly not. But what do Mail readers really think of their paper and what do Guardian readers think of individual columnists in the Guardian ? Nice conference stuff, but I have lost count of the number of times media owners have talked and even research what might be points of differentiation, over and above 'head counts' only for they, or agencies either not to use it or fail to integrate into Industry practice. You might just be old enough Dominic, do the letters MPX? mean anything ( I bet they do to Brian Jacobs ).”

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