Wednesday 20 February 2019

John McGee: 'Digital advertising sector is facing an uphill battle'

'Advertising is what keeps much of the internet ticking over and, without it, there would be no internet as we know it.' (Stock image)
'Advertising is what keeps much of the internet ticking over and, without it, there would be no internet as we know it.' (Stock image)

John McGee

If you were to sit with a blank sheet of paper and map out everything that is wrong with the internet as we know it, you might come to some interesting, but disturbing, conclusions.

Using a red pen, let's start with the dodgy stuff first. In the top right-hand corner let us put things like the Dark Web, the seedy and murky underbelly of the internet with all its gun-selling, drug-pushing and money-laundering inhabitants.

Sticking with the red pen, and to the left of the Dark Web, let's draw a circle around ad fraud, the dirty little secret of the global digital media business and a topic nobody within the industry likes to talk about too loudly. Last year alone, the World Federation of Advertisers estimated as much as $19bn was lost to the industry by ad fraud perpetrated by criminals around the world.

Below ad fraud, you can make a few notes that include complicit adtech companies, questionable supply chains and, yes, agencies, advertisers and legislators who really need to do a lot more to combat all of this.

In another corner of the page, let's pencil in things like Russian-backed advertising campaigns to influence the US presidential election and Brexit referendum, misleading performance metrics from social media platforms, crypto-currency scams and the many illegal websites that stream copyright-protected movies and live sports, denying the content owners their rightful revenue streams.

The list goes on and on.

Somewhere towards the middle of the page, you might like to draw a big circle around social media and the impact it is having on society, democracy and the mental health of adults and kids who are, yes, addicted to it. After years of studying our social media behaviours, experts are unanimous in their belief that social media addiction is a legitimate and worrying problem.

If you haven't guessed it by now, the common thread linking all of these is advertising.

Advertising is what keeps much of the internet ticking over and, without it, there would be no internet as we know it and, yes, society would probably be worse off as a result.

It would be silly, however, to blame all of our woes on advertising. Good advertising educates and informs consumer choice, stimulates competition and builds brands and companies which ultimately create jobs for people who then spend their money in the economy.

Advertising also pays for petabytes of quality content created by newsrooms around the world on an hourly basis, much of which is good for society.

But somewhere on this increasingly cluttered page the question has to be asked about the future of online advertising, where it is heading and how the industry responds to the challenges it faces.

If we park the more questionable elements of the digital ecosystem for a bit, a good starting point should focus on why many internet users are either blind to online advertising or have adblockers installed. Could it be that they find it to be too intrusive and creepy? Or is a lot of what is served up irrelevant or creatively bland?

Earlier this week a study published by the marketing communications group Core found one in five consumers are dissatisfied with online advertising, while 31pc said they would pay to turn it off altogether. In addition, 48pc said they don't mind ads on websites or mobile apps, as long as they don't cause a distraction. While these numbers might seem small to most people, advertisers might be inclined to think otherwise. Hopefully, this might be a wake-up call for some of them.

So how do advertisers get to a point where their advertising is not too intrusive but interesting and relevant enough to engage?

"We believe this is a shared responsibility - and this is perhaps the challenge in itself," says Emer Lawn, director of Mediaworks and one of the authors of the Core report.

"When we're developing online advertising, there are three things that should be considered: the quality of the media approach - the right time, right place and right person; the quality of the message -the right format, right length and relevancy; and the quality of the experience and how the ad fits within the environment and how easy it is to navigate the website.

"These three things often sit across different teams, agencies and partners and, critically, the publishers we advertise with. We need to ensure the way our ads are delivered are never compromised. A lot of Irish indigenous players have put a focus on this but we believe we need to continue to stretch for a higher standard overall."

Higher standards overall are indeed a good starting point. But a lot more still needs to be done if consumers are to genuinely feel advertising can be useful, informative and relevant without being too intrusive. This is probably the biggest challenge of all. It would be a tragic irony if, at some stage in the future, the death of advertising as we know it now is triggered by the advertising industry itself.

Sunday Indo Business

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