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Humongous - and invincible?

31 May 2017  |  Bob Wootton 
Humongous - and invincible?

Despite growing and persistent problems, why are brand owners still in such thrall to Google and Facebook, asks Bob Wootton

So it’s official - according to Zenith, Google and Facebook are now the biggest media businesses in the world, hoovering up 20% of global adspend and rising.

Google is three times the size of Facebook and posted an 18% year-on-year revenue climb and Facebook has twice the revenues of nearest competitor Comcast.

Yet both now face growing and more persistent challenges about their compliance both to the society they live in (questionable attitudes, whether towards privacy, content or tax) and to the brands whose adspend keeps them afloat and mystifyingly endeared to the investment community.

Meanwhile, the venerable World Federation of Advertisers held its annual gathering of its great and good in Toronto recently and, as ever, trumpeted some of the outputs and outcomes.

As the gathering point for many of the world’s biggest brand owners, the industry would do well to listen. Or would it?

One output in particular struck me. It announced the result of a canvass of its members which indicated that they would likely increase their overall spend online by 20% year-on-year despite ongoing concerns around viewability, fraud and brand safety.

Imagine, if you will, that the world’s leaders wanted to deter a rogue nation from nuclear proliferation. They would meet under the auspices of the United Nations, rattle their sabres and then seek to introduce sanctions.

Despite the dilution which inevitably arises when different constituents have different politics, economies and trading positions, the sanctions that emerged would be designed sharply to force the perp in question to reconsider.

Do you think some cautionary words accompanied by a 20% hike in trade with the rogue state in question would cut much mustard? Nor me.

Were I Google and Facebook et al, with an ‘incentive’ like that, I wouldn’t give a hoot about brands’ safety either. What on earth is going on?

At the risk of sounding like my friend and mentor Ad Contrarian Bob Hoffman, why are so many brand owners in such thrall to these guys? (Ok, he would use much more colourful language, but then he’s a proper writer and an American to boot).

Granted, WFA can’t deny the results, but its presentation of two contrasting messages in juxtaposition makes it and the brand owners it represents look confused and, frankly, toothless. It suggests, amazingly, that advertisers still haven’t figured out that they could extract so much more from businesses whose valuations are predicated almost entirely on their advertising activities.

To ice the cake, several network agency chiefs’ comments at various events I’ve attended recently confirm that they have scant time or regard for these matters unless and until their clients are embarrassed. Advertisers beware. Can we please stop calling these ‘agencies’ what they no longer are and henceforth use the more apposite term? Resellers.

Good riddance

Not many people can trade on a single name alone (Bono, Beyonce...), but one has built a hell of a personal brand, albeit unfortunately (to quote fellow columnist Ray Snoddy) by being vile and determinedly unpleasant.

Being utterly self-obsessed, Kelvin MacKenzie won’t even remember but I spent a bit of time with him over the years in various situations. It could sometimes be amusing but usually it was between tedious and horrible.

I once helped out a good mate who once has the misfortune to work for him and was struggling to populate an intimate soirée - even in the swankest of eateries high up a mountain - with Kelv at an overseas conference junket (remember them?).

Once seated, yer man regaled us with his usual monologue of anecdotes, reviling the many folk in high places he'd met and dissing his joint CEO at Live TV. (Though you have to admit that combining him and Janet Street-Porter was an inspired, if also suicidal, bit of management mischief).

Another time, we industry coves had to endure him and his rather shabby advisers when he tried to sue radio audience body RAJAR, challenging both its inclusivity and its methodology.

By this time he was running Talksport and his claim centred around the disadvantage he asserted RAJAR visited on talk radio stations with longer dwell times. Not a completely unreasonable hypothesis actually, but unproven.

Like most bullies, he sought to threaten rather than persuade but found himself up against people with no direct commercial activities that he could attack and compromise. He didn’t know what to do when his threats weren’t heeded. We basically sat tight, giving the industry an umbrella under which it could let the spleen pass over until he got bored, which he did easily. Cost us a CEO, though.

(This is a compelling if unspoken argument for the industry’s often-maligned trade bodies like IPA, ISBA et al, and one which I think the Radiocentre's precursor RAB, which was conflicted by his membership, privately endorsed too).

Now, at last, Liverpool has seen its revenge served cold, though doubtless he’ll bounce back somewhere, somehow, like the proverbial bad penny.

Let’s celebrate the good bit - after all, he did bring us trampolining dwarf weathermen and topless darts at a time when it was acceptable to be amused by such things.

A quiet revolution...

ISBA is reporting that some £4.5bn of UK media spend is now operating under the provisions in their comprehensive but controversial 2016 model contract, for which I can claim some small share of credit before my departure.

It remains a source of network agency scorn and bile, but an overdue quiet revolution is nevertheless well under way.

...and a noisier one

The Guardian’s lawsuit against Rubicon Project and the latter’s counter-suit threaten to surface all manner of dirty laundry.

Bring it on. We need to some serious spectator sport this summer.

And it can only help the growing band who so passionately want to clean things up from the frightful mess that the less holy side of the marriage of media and tech has saddled us all with.

@bobwootton

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