Controversy of the Year: Brand Safety
Some digital marketing practitioners — both legitimate and underground — have played fast and loose with brands' reputations for years. In 2017, the day of reckoning arrived.
In the hot seat:
72% of CMOs feel pressure from brand safety issues
YouTube lost 5% of advertisers in April due to brand safety concern
The bottom line:
77% of brand marketers believe brand safety impacts ROI
91% of digital marketers are implementing or planning brand-safe strategies
This year, for the first time, some of the world's biggest advertisers fully grasped just how little control they have over their brands once they've been unleashed into the digital media ecosystem. Brand safety is about more than ads on YouTube showing up next to content spewing hate speech and violence, although McDonald's, L'Oreal and others realized earlier this year that such ad placement is a widespread problem.
These revelations brought the brand safety issue into the spotlight and resulted in advertisers and agencies diverting their spend away from YouTube and other platforms. The intractability of brand safety and the ways it's already impacted budget allocation and engagement strategy are what catapults this issue to the top of a long list of controversies facing digital marketing in 2017.
Concern over the lack of transparency in digital media is closely related to brand safety. However, while some marketers are mostly concerned about standardizing metrics so they can drive their return on investment, others are looking at the quality of the digital media experience for consumers and brands and wondering if it's even possible to fix what's broken, like the lack of context in programmatic buying, so-called zombie sites and bot traffic.
"I think that marketing as an industry needs to take a good look at itself and really question: am I truly, truly, truly a competitive value proposition such that I am a provider to the industry?" Andy Main, head of Deloitte Digital, told Marketing Dive. "A lot of it hasn't been reinvented for decades and people are running out of juice on old business models that are so antiquated that people are just running away from them."
It's going to be difficult to rebuild the trust that has been lost between brands and some digital marketing practitioners who spent money with abandon when growth was skyrocketing because it was exciting. Those practitioners didn’t understand — or possibly care — about the consequences and no one was stopping them. For them, it was and possibly remains a numbers game.
But for brands, even just a few badly placed ads can result in a significant backlash. With digital marketing now the largest marketing segment by spend even as results have flat-lined, brands are taking a harder look at their investments and not liking what they see in many cases.
Digital platforms like Facebook, Twitter and others face a tough challenge winning back consumers' confidence, with recent research showing trust in social media brands has taken the biggest hit from reports about fake news compared to other channels.
Broken trust in the digital media supply chain has also opened up competition in the space, with digital platforms, agencies and consultancies all chasing after brands with promises of fixing their problems. In the short term, marketers are placing their bets on tactics where they have more control, like branded video and influencer marketing.
Digital lost some of its shine this year for sure, but the increased push for scrutiny and transparency is what this medium needs to help legitimize the parts of it that are actually effective.—Chris Bellinger, VP of Concepting and Digital, The Marketing Arm
Longer term, there is a movement toward giving brands more control over where their ads appear through in-house shops, private marketplaces, putting greater emphasis on the context of ad placement and more policing of content. However, it's clear that the latter, at least, is likely to be a tough problem to overcome.
"Digital lost some of its shine this year for sure, but the increased push for scrutiny and transparency is what this medium needs to help legitimize the parts of it that are actually effective," Chris Bellinger, VP of concepting and digital at The Marketing Arm, told Marketing Dive.
Blockchain technology, by building in accountability across media partners, is one possible solution for issues around media quality and brand safety. This along with AI and other technologies are bringing the elusive promise of one-to-one marketing closer to reality, which in theory would help brands better ensure that their messages are getting in front of the right person at the right time.