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Tess Alps 

"This is for everyone"

"This is for everyone"

It's time agencies and advertisers asked themselves serious questions about the media world they are creating through their investment decisions, writes Tess Alps

I'm sure many of you will have recently joined me in a bit of 2012 Olympics nostalgia by re-watching that soul-lifting opening ceremony. So many inspiring moments. One of the many that drew a tear was when the suburban house flew up to reveal Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, sitting at his laptop and, across the audience, the phrase "This is for everyone" shone out.

What a vision that was: an open technology that would benefit all humanity by connecting everyone and everything.

Amid the quasi-religious philosophy and optimism that early internet evangelists invoked, people could see that there would be disruption for many on the road, but we were told that the pain would be worth it to create the democratic, meritocratic Nirvana on the horizon.

It's well-documented that newspapers have suffered more than most media businesses in this transformation, in print advertising revenue at least. Looked at more positively, internet technologies - web, mobile, apps - have allowed them to reach many more people across the world. And, in a thriving online advertising market, this should at least offset some of the losses that print advertising is suffering.

Last week's results from the Guardian Media Group were a shock; not only did its print advertising decline, its digital advertising was also down despite growth in online readers. On the same day Facebook announced that its first quarter 2016 net income had tripled (yes, tripled) and that its margins had increased from 26% to 37%.

So, after we've all congratulated Facebook and commiserated with the Guardian, what should we make of this?

There are two enormous issues here: the first is about the developing advertising landscape and how it impacts advertisers, agencies and media-owners; the second is linked but arguably even more serious and relates to democracy and culture.

It is reported that 90% of the growth in mobile ad revenue is going only to Google and Facebook. You can see how that might happen. These two global behemoths are force fields so magnetic that they suck every penny towards them.

They talk at the highest levels to global companies (and governments - more of which later). Their huge revenues and margins allow them to be so well-resourced that they are omnipresent, not just within media agencies but within marketing departments and creative agencies too.

They offer their expertise for free and they have loads of their in-house data to share. They are lavish entertainers and at the drop a hat will whiz CEOs off to the West Coast or somewhere else lovely.

They are generous sponsors so are able to put their name everywhere and buy up the goodwill of many influencers. The Guardian has been replaced as the headline sponsor of the Edinburgh TV Festival by YouTube (an ironic twist from the company that is telling advertisers to take large sums of money out of TV.) They are mostly staffed by talented and delightful people whom many of us know well and trust.

Everyone wants to be their friend - or at least no-one wants to be their enemy.

I blame Google and Facebook for none of this. They're just doing their job.

Do agencies and advertisers really want a world where there is no national, quality, journalism or culturally specific entertainment to place their ads in?"

What must agencies and advertisers do in the face of this? Agencies' responsibility should be first to their clients, not just for today but for the future too. If they don't do this they will have no business in a few years.

So it's essential that media agencies invest only the money that is justified on a day-to-day basis, based on independent and impartial metrics. It is surely not acceptable that Google and Facebook - and others - define their own metrics, count their own inventory and even analyse their own ROI.

We need agencies, marketers and industry ruling bodies to demand quality, impartial research and to challenge publicly the hyping of any trends. Internet media should be subject to the same scrutiny and scepticism that every other medium receives.

We also need agencies to ensure that their own income is not influencing their planning decisions and this probably means working with procurement more openly to rewrite contracts or to change their fees to business-based ones.

Advertisers must make sure that their contracts allow agencies to be profitable without resorting to other 'practices' and then they will be able to trust the advice that comes from those agencies again.

But we also need agencies and advertisers to consider the longer-term effect of where they decide to spend media money. Do they really want a world where there is no national, quality, journalism or culturally specific entertainment to place their ads in? That will be the inevitable consequence if the Guardian and many other media like it cannot monetise the hard-won audiences they have built online.

The internet was supposed to be 'for everyone' but the idealism of an open web has mutated into an increasingly closed and unpoliced world of apps, and a world dominated by a very few quasi-monopolies.

This is where we start to go way beyond our world of marketing into some seriously heavy duty public policy issues. Katharine Viner's recent ISBA speech highlighted just how dependent newspapers have allowed themselves to become, reaching readers increasingly through the social media gatekeepers.

That has many revenue implications but even more editorial ones. Now that news articles are being served up based on unknown 'personalised' algorithms these giant tech companies are in effect acting as editorial organisations while posing as neutral distribution platforms.

Democracy is at risk. If it was any other medium, regulators such as Ofcom, national governments and international bodies would expect to shape very closely how this scenario develops. Some things are happening here, particularly in the sphere of privacy and data, but the wheels grind slowly. In the meantime, valuable media companies are being starved of vital and deserved revenues while others wallow in cash.

While we wait for official organisations to grasp this giant nettle there's plenty the industry can do by using media investments more wisely. These could not be more crucial. We all need to examine our consciences and strategies. Let's be brave enough to engage in some open debate. This really is an issue 'for everyone'.

Tess Alps (@TessAlps) is chair of Thinkbox.

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JimeetGandhi, Media Planning Executive, Amagi MIX on 28 Nov 2017
“Yes, I agree with you that there should be an open technology that would benefit all humanity by connecting everyone and everything. As you have mentioned, “we also need agencies and advertisers to consider the longer-term effect of where they decide to spend media money”. Thankfully, there are media planning platforms like Amagi MIX, that helps to better spend the media money.”
Kathy O'Brien, Senior Corporate Partnerships Manager, The Duke of Edinburgh's Award on 6 Sep 2016
“Really intelligent piece from Tess as always - Matt's point about scale of the EU in challenging these issues very true too. Complacency about all of this is probably the biggest danger.”
Karen Stacey, CEO, DIgital Cinema Media on 4 Sep 2016
“Great piece Tess - I agree that the rules that have kept our industry in check should apply to everyone - if we are not careful we will kill the goose that laid the golden egg!!”
Matt Huntingford, Client Partner, Carat on 17 Aug 2016
“Well said Tess. Independent journalism is vital. Without it we are in danger of losing the most important check and balance in our political system, and consequently it is in real danger of from the undue influence of a few small and wealthy elite groups. This is the world where Donald Trump and the Brexit campaign can rise to prominence on the basis of gross distortions of the truth, and where tech billionaires can secretly fund lawsuits to destroy media outlets that they hold personal grudges against (see Hulk Hogan v Gawker Media). The sad fact is that the one organisation that has the scale and appetite to try to regulate the behaviour of the global mega-corporations is the EU, and very soon we won't even have that.”
Jeremy Nye, Consultant, JUST EAT on 6 Aug 2016
“It's a terrific and important piece, thanks Tess. In response to Danny, part of the problem is the complacency in the line 'platforms such as Facebook and Youtube'. How many platforms are we talking about? It all seems to come down to Facebook and Google... which other platforms? And are we comfortable with foreign monopolies dominating the entire space? Even a WPP company should recognise that.”
Tess Alps, Chair, Thinkbox on 5 Aug 2016
“Just replying to Danny. My point is about the market distortion that very large, unregulated media platforms create, for many reasons, to the detriment of all other media, including many trying to build businesses online. Google and Facebook are of course very valuable media, but, if you think that the world can survive on UCG and citizen journalism alone, we have very different views of what constitutes an informed, democratic society. Ironically, Google and Facebook would themselves be losers without that quality content to distribute which create traffic and revenue for them.”
Danny Weitzkorn, Content Partnerships Director, MEC Wavemaker on 4 Aug 2016
“An interesting extract from the article "Do they really want a world where there is no national, quality, journalism or culturally specific entertainment to place their ads in? " The simple fact is that landscape has changed drastically and our broadcasters / publishers have not adapted quick enough. Everyone can now effectively be content creator, journalist and has the ability to broadcast to an audience, platforms such as Facebook & YouTube have just made this possible.”
Jennie Beck, Director of Media, TNS/Kantar Media on 3 Aug 2016
“Terrific piece - thanks Tess”
Kerry Howard Lad, Sponsorship Strategy Manager, Sky on 3 Aug 2016
“Brilliant! An issue that many will not want to discuss but all need to!”
Kelly Williams, MD, Commercial, ITV on 1 Aug 2016
“Well said Tess !!”