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Seize this moment to recalibrate the machines

06 May 2020  |  Raymond Snoddy 
Seize this moment to recalibrate the machines

Now is the time to deal with the long-known imperfections in the media and advertising world's automated systems, writes Ray Snoddy

I agree with Nick. No absolutely not Nick Clegg former leader of the Lib Dems and the chief apologist worldwide for Facebook.

I’m talking about someone more substantial and reliable – Nick Manning.

You don’t need to consult Old Moore’s Almanac to know that the post Covid-19 universe is going to very different from the current one affecting almost every aspect of life from work patterns and travel to media and advertising.

Everything that is remote, decentralised, automatic and digital, already on a gathering wave, will receive a huge boost.

It is almost a truism to suggest that automatic trading and programmatic advertising will be a bigger part of the future of communications than it might have appeared on 22 March not least because, at the superficial level, it appears to be both efficient and cost-effective.

In fact wrongly handled it can be an almost perfect way to lose clients not just money but reputation and open the way to fraudsters everywhere whose cost of production is close to zero.

In the world according to Manning the personalisation of data-led programmatic is a dream that hasn’t happened and one of the main reasons is that the industry, in turning impressions into a base currency, has deluded itself.

It’s more base metal than gold.

The industry was warned six years ago that as much as 60 per cent of a brand’s online budget could be eaten up by fees and other costs, and little has changed since then.

“The online display market has been taken over by automated trading to the detriment of the advertising industry,” insists the wise Manning.

He believes that the advertising industry needs to rediscover media planning and charge correctly for it and that the discipline that needs the most planning reinvention is digital.

Great disruptions, unless they turn into great extinctions, can be the most creative of times in encouraging positive evolutionary change.

So the most important part of the Manning mantra is the simplest of all.

Now is the time for the advocates of automated trading and programmatic systems to pause, use this opportunity to deal with the long-known imperfection of the system – and produce, at the very least, a recalibration.

The process could even start at Mediatel’s Future of Media Trading digital conference next Thursday.

After all one of the stars of the show, Sir Martin Sorrell, executive chairman of S4 Capital, has long railed at everything from the fleeting nature of the impression, when they are seen by human eyes at all, to the dangerous monopoly powers concentrated in the hands of a handful of tech giants in California.

And talking of monopolies, Google-owned YouTube is still at it allowing dangerous fake news to circulate on its systems and advertisers sometimes either don’t know or don’t care.

Press Gazette has just found that a video claiming that 5G causes coronavirus has been live on the website for a month and been viewed more than 1.5 million times before it was finally taken down on 1 May.

Advertisements for a United Nations charity appeared alongside conspiracy theorist David Icke suggesting Iran had suffered so badly in the pandemic because of its relationship with Israel and the United States.

There was also a video condemning Microsoft founder Bill Gates as an “anti-Christ” in an article debunked by Reuters.

YouTube took down a number of conspiracy theory videos but only after being approached by Press Gazette.

As Jason Kint, chef executive of the campaigning US digital publishing trade body Digital Content Next, put it: “journalists shouldn’t be their clean-up crew.”

If anything, Nick’s reform proposals – Nick Manning that is – should if anything go further, or at least be more inclusive.

The reinvention of planning whether in automatic trading systems or elsewhere, should include the importance of context, dwell time, engagement and trust.

Any old machine-to-machine impression using social media is simply not good enough.

Is it too utopian to suggest that advertisers and the advertising industry should pay more attention to the quality of messages they are transmitting and where they are appearing?

For the avoidance of doubt the latest European Broadcasting Union report on Trust in Media found that in the 33 countries surveyed trust in the internet and social media has shown significant declines over the past five years compared with almost stable levels of trust in traditional media.

While 47 per cent of people use social networks for news of the Covid-19 virus only 14 per cent rank it as one of the most trustworthy sources.

Globally, TV news channels are the most-used source of Covid-19 information and second most trusted after government updates.

As for newsbrand websites, recent Comscore figures show the pandemic has led to a 30 per cent rise in total number of visitors compared with a year ago.

It may be rather wistful now to look back at the final quarter of last year before the arrival of the virus when advertising revenue for national news brands rose by 0.7 per cent and by 11.4 per cent online.

For the record that amounted to an upswing of 7 per cent taking a forecast of £939 million up to £1 billion.

That was then, now alas the Advertising Association/WARC expenditure report expects a decline of 20.5 per cent for this year.

Despite such pessimistic forecasts for national newsbrands and indeed for media as whole surely there has to be a premium on quality and value – even in the swirl of automated trading systems.

Ironically, another area in need of reform is not lax controls on inappropriate conspiracy material but the opposite - inflexible blocks on entirely appropriate, and socially useful information about the Covid-19 virus.

Such key blocks preventing ads appearing beside online stories with the word “coronavirus” could cost the news brand industry as much as £50 million in lost revenue in the three months from April to June alone.

Now Reach, publishers of the Daily Mirror and the Daily Express, has teamed up with IBM and Xandr to launch Mantis, an artificial intelligence solution which could free up to 70 per cent of journalism currently on advertiser block lists.

If you can’t beat them join them and if all else fails call for Nick Manning.

Join us on May 14 for the Future of Media Trading - a free streamed event that will discuss these issues in more detail.

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08 Jul 2020 

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