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Digital Advertising is Dead; Long Live Digital Advertising

Marketing — especially influencer marketing — moves fast, sometimes too fast. The fast pace of the industry demands automation and algorithms become tools in a marketer’s jackknife. Marketing firms and agencies hire engineers and data scientists who leverage machine learning to build robust algorithms and generate maximum return on the campaigns they invest in. Wherever the money is going, the algorithm goes with it.

This week: Mark Zuckerberg heads to congress this week to testify about Facebook data abuse. In light of this, it’s become increasingly clear that this obsession with algorithms and automation over authenticity creates deep divides within our society. It’s undeniable that social media increasingly pervades our lives, especially among teenagers. In fact, paid media spend in 2017 was $35.98 billion, and will continue to grow in 2018.

Facebook Ads Vice President, Rob Goldman, in his review of the 2016 election, admitted that highly trafficked content — that is controversial and divisive content — yields lower CPMs on advertising marketplaces. The engine of sensational content powered YouTube’s incredible failure to police bizarre and harmful kids content, as well as notorious controversies with PewDiePie and Logan Paul.

Sensationalism stands out. Sensationalism drives views and clicks, which are a new form of currency in a hyper-social world. The more views and clicks, the more fame. The more fame, the more value you have to monetize your content and sell sponsorships. Algorithms and automation bet on money, not people.

However it’s not too late to reverse this trend. Back in February, Keith Weed of Unilever moved the conversation in a positive direction by saying enough is enough; pushing for transparency with digital advertising. This approach is already seeing results: P&G cut $200M in digital ad spend due to brand safety concerns to focus on what’s effective. Since then, they’ve increased their reach by 10%. We’ve seen that authenticity rewards brands. If influencer marketing is built on the foundations of authenticity, why not commit to being more authentic; more transparent?

However, we should be careful to not overcorrect and throw big data out the window. Simply throwing more people at a problem hasn’t been successful at all.

The answer lies in investing more time in education to attain expertise. When brands start combining expertise with data to secure operational excellence, they can build winning collaborations with influencers. Another change lies in leaning less on agencies and more on in-house talent. CMOs will have a better chance of building brand-safe campaigns if they instruct their teams to do the research and buy digital media on their own.

Tom Lehrer once sang, “once the rockets are up who cares where they come down.” In our excitement over digital marketing, we built practices without thinking of the consequences. There’s still time to take control before the proverbial rockets come down. The real focus should be building out teams with expertise in digital and influencer, cultivating authentic relationships with creators that share brand values, and investing in technology platforms that will give your team the transparency they need to make smart decisions. CMOs control $40 billion of budget available. Time to let Facebook, Google, YouTube, and others know they need to re-write the rules, for all of our sakes.

Grapevine is the world's leading influencer marketing platform. Grapevine helps marketers identify and collaborate with trusted social creators to reach and engage their customers.
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