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Dirty rotten scoundrels always find a workaround

22 Nov 2019  |  David Pidgeon 
Dirty rotten scoundrels always find a workaround

Twitter is trying it. Google is trying it too. Will Facebook suffer the adspend hit – however large or small - and help clean up the wild west of online political advertising?

Following a similar announcement from Twitter last month, on Thursday Google said it would address the lack of transparency and accountability synonymous with targeted political ads – by next week in the UK, and globally in January.

It means, to some degree, Google is trying to bring itself in line with other media channels - such as TV, OOH and radio – in the way it reaches people with political messages.

The IPA, representing agencies, has been campaigning for these sorts of changes for some time – arguing that in the absence of regulation, society needs transparency to protect against the temptation of extreme messaging. It is also worried, quite rightly, that controversies over online political advertising were further eroding trust in the ad sector more generally when it was already at a historic low.

Paul Bainsfair, director general, IPA, said Google should, therefore, be applauded, but warned these positive steps would be undermined if there is no universal online register of all political ads, so expect continued lobbying.

It’s also vital Facebook – the most sophisticated of the micro-targeters – steps up too. With its social media peers making changes, the pressure has certainly grown stronger.

Yet it also makes you wonder if any of what Google announced this week is just too little too late in the UK, or just not even that useful.

It has been a dirty election campaign thus far, and as Google's news was announced it was easy to see how its ad services - using key search words rather than profile targeting - were being used in pretty shifty ways, such as the Conservatives running attack ads on Google search to try and mislead people about Labour's manifesto.

If your job is dealing in dirty tricks, you're probably already several steps ahead. That's the nature of the game.

If anything, it's certainly teaching the public to wise up to all these underhand tactics, and probably to underhand advertising tactics more generally.

So we wonder what impact that mistrust, and a culture that is normalising extreme obfuscation will have in the long-term. It doesn't seem good.


The perils of being edgy

Since joining our writing team at the start of the year, Jan Gooding's monthly columns have offered readers wisdom on everything from the pitching process to procurement negotiations to the ethics of market research... So we confess to being a little surprised when she told us her research for this month's column had involved spending some time on X-rated websites.

But that’s just what she had to do to understand Unilever and Heinz's decisions to advertise on the world's largest platform for adult titillation.

It's an amusing read, but Gooding also raises some legitimate serious questions for advertisers.

Who should take the blame when a brand suffers reputational damage from its ad placement? Should an ad campaign ever feature on a platform with lower production values? Is striving to be edgy ever really worth the risk?

And most importantly, did the brands' choice of ad placement even make sense for their campaigns?

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22 May 2020 

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