Hate video debacle: fresh voices warn of government regulation

23 Mar 2017  |  David Pidgeon 
Hate video debacle: fresh voices warn of government regulation

Nicklin, Finney and Sonobi's Anthony Katsur

"Every playground needs an adult to stay safe."

That was a one of the quotes adding to the warnings that if the ad industry fails to remedy the problems over brand safety and ad fraud it will face government regulation.

From brands unwittingly funding terror via YouTube, to the multi-billion dollar world of ad fraud, the online advertising sector is facing a growing crisis that it seems unable to control.

The Guardian's chief revenue officer, Hamish Nicklin, warned earlier this month that if the industry fails to curb the problems, then it could face regulation. Now Chris Clarke, chief creative officer at DigitasLBi, Publicis' global marketing and tech agency, has sounded similar warnings.

"I think we probably are [in a position that requires a regulator]," Clarke said at Ad Week Europe on Thursday.

"It's palpably clear that the organisations behind this can't regulate it. It's not Google and Facebook's fault; they keep getting mentioned because they're the two biggest recipients of ad money. It's nobody's individual fault. But that doesn't mean you have to step back and let chaos rein."

Clarke said it felt "weird" to advocate for government intervention - joking that it understands so little of the complexities of digital that most people working for it still print their emails out - but the acceleration of change in the adtech market and the "hive mind" and "network effect" of the online space meant they may have to step in to ensure order.

"We can't stay on top of the adtech," he said. "It's impossible...I think it is extremely important now that we do start to get some sort of probably internationally co-ordinated regulation because the kids can't sort it out for themselves."

Clarke (centre) and Laura Jordan-Bambach, creative partner, Mr President

ISBA, the body that represents British advertisers, does not agree, however.

Mark Finney, the body's director of media and advertising, said the UK ad industry has a long history of self-regulation that has been so successful it has been exported elsewhere around the world. He said the same tradition should now continue.

"I have great faith that we can sort it out," he said at Ad Week, sharing a panel with both Clarke and Nicklin.

"And the thing that will sort it out is advertising dollars and pounds. It's about not using those suppliers that are not properly accredited by the Digital Standards Trading Group...if you stick to the accredited suppliers, and you know that everyone in the supply chain in clean and is doing their part, then we can get a grip on it."

Finney added that the current situation - which has seen more 250 advertisers pull their campaigns from YouTube, and placed enormous pressure on Google - is the catalyst for a "huge shake-up in adtech."

Finney added that 95% of the companies on the adtech lumascape - a well-known and complicated map of the marketplace - add no value and will soon "be gone".

Although Google and its video platform YouTube have taken a spanking over the last few weeks, the Guardian's Nicklin also said on Thursday they were "just the tip of the iceberg" and that the entire online advertising ecosystem was in need of revaluation.

"YouTube is the easy target - but actually that's just the tip of the iceberg. The reality is the ad technology that allows those ads to appear on YouTube against those horrible videos is actually very similar technology that allows ads to appear on long-tail websites that are very hard for a journalist to find and write about."

Nicklin wondered if that would lead more advertisers to question programmatic advertising more generally - and instead of "chasing cheap audiences" think harder about the quality of context.

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