Funding hatred of the online ad ecosystem

25 Apr 2017  |  Steve Doyle 
Funding hatred of the online ad ecosystem

The headlines currently being grabbed are the tip of an iceberg that has been looming on the horizon of the online ad ecosystem for some time, writes Steve Doyle

Let’s be clear about one thing to start.

No one with extremist views, regardless of their validity, sanity or prejudice, puts messages onto platforms like YouTube to make money. You could run the numbers and snipe that the yield wouldn’t be high enough to make much, but the reality is that people are using these platforms to promote their cause, and, this instance, spread the hateful bile that is a very real issue in modern society.

However, the “funding hate” issue is not really about funding hate. Hate is not making much cash out of this, hate is using platforms to distribute their message to encourage others to hate.

As the current debate ruminates around the industry, one thing becomes more apparent to me as a casual observer (i.e. not an employee of a platform or an advertiser): the headlines being grabbed are the tip of an iceberg that has been looming on the horizon of the online ad ecosystem for some time.

The issues are far more deep rooted than simply the fundamentally extreme view on Fundamental Extremism that the press has used to attack the platforms that threaten their business model. This debate is around transparency, the middleman, value creation and the rise of automation to improve the ways in which we advertise to consumers.

The first thing that is wholly wrong is to round on the platforms. Google said that 400 hours of content is being uploaded to YouTube every minute. It’s a mind-boggling stat, and so it’s inevitable that people will find ways of getting around the automated checks designed to ensure that advertising does not appear around inappropriate content. This is the real risk of social media that advertisers have overlooked because of the huge appeal of scale. The platforms are so vast, they offer so much scale, it’s a great place to advertise? Right?

Well, yes, sometimes. But not always, and those exceptions are costly.

I’m sure that the platforms will improve their technology over time to be able to counter the current issues, which is no mean feat. The traditional media (many of whom we have partnered with for many years at InSkin) invest large sums and spend a lot of time creating amazing content with professional journalists. These are great places to advertise, but the drive towards low-cost scale has pushed such a large quantity of advertising spend towards the large platforms that we now talk about a “duopoly” in the market.

We mustn’t underestimate the damage these headlines have done to our entire industry, not solely the platforms which have been specifically targeted. They are undoubtedly alienating people from digital advertising, and so it’s up to us to create an opportunity here - an opportunity to reinvent our sector with better measurement and more robust reporting. For reference, do watch Jon Mew from the IAB’s AWE session on living in a digital world, in which he talks about “human engagement” rather than just “clicks and acquisition”.

"You wouldn’t buy a car without verifying that it is road safe. Nor should advertisers buy media from anyone who cannot verify that it can run safely."

It is evident that very cheap, scalable media executions often come at the price of quality; both of performance and security. As advertisers acknowledge this, it follows that larger investment in the “quality internet” is inevitable, but those publishers of “real” content also need to stick to their guns, keep their standards up and refrain from using social media quotes as the ballast of their stories.

If not, the Internet will end up become a farrago of citizen journalism and ducks on train lines holding up trains (something that the author came upon at the time of writing when refreshing his social media feed for an example of what passes for content these days).

Better content is vital to produce better advertising environments, which will capture the imagination of people who don’t inherently use the internet to see adverts.

Various trade bodies are already squaring up to tackle the brand safety issue. The DTSG Good Practice Principles (endorsed by JICWEBS) currently has 48 signatories who have been independently verified and obtained certification for brand safe practices.

This seal needs to become a standard requirement in the eyes of advertisers who are trusting their brands, and by extension their reputations, to these tech companies and publishers.

This has become particularly pertinent in light of recent events: compliance is a bear minimum, and those who aren’t able to deliver under reasonable scrutiny need to be held accountable. You wouldn’t buy a car without verifying that it is road safe and fully MOTd. Nor should advertisers buy media from anyone who cannot verify that it can run safely.

All of this is well and good, but it seems that even once these issues are publicly put right, bungling parties held accountable and their practices corrected, online advertising itself will still need a brand campaign to restore advertiser confidence in its ability to self regulate - something the industry needs to do itself or face the reality of someone else (e.g. government) stepping in to do it for us.

Whilst this all sounds a bit bleak, we must believe that this is progress. We just need to understand that it’s a rampant beast we are trying to tame, and that within its significant challenge with many moving parts lies a huge opportunity for those with the best intentions and impetus to act on them.

Steve Doyle is chief commercial officer at InSkin Media


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