opinion

Marketing itself, not just its budget, should be a force for good

July 2018
Written by Rowly Bourne

Marketing itself, not just its budget, should be a force for good
Picture courtesy of josemdelaa from Pixabay.com

There are many brands using their relationships with customers and marketing budgets as a force for good in the world. Just over the weekend I listened to a Barclays radio advert discussing how to protect yourself from Facebook tracking, and the FMCG space has made excellent inroads to wider societal issues such as supplying clean water, providing education and preventing children from joining gangs.

But I ask the question: with all this good work, should charity not start at home?

And I don’t just mean worrying about missions for good in the UK. Advertisers ultimately need to place their ads in front of eyeballs, for it to result in a product being bought. Ultimately this is why CEOs give CMOs a budget – to sell.

So for this mission to be successful, which in turn allows the wider societal missions to thrive, they need to be where the eyeballs are – and you probably don’t need to look at the latest Mary Meeker Internet report to know that all eyes are on the web.

Now you may be starting to wonder what I am about to write about – the web is literally plastered with ads. Publishers must be making a fortune, with all the video and display ads on every page all at the expense of our User Experience (25% of UK Internet users have got so fed up that they use an ad-blocker). So why should they need any charity?

The shift in advertising dollars to mobile
KleinerPerkins Internet trends report

Unfortunately the inverse is true. The reason web pages are plastered with these ads is because each ad is so cheap to buy – because it is so ineffective. Publishers have relied on their print subscribers to fund their entire operations. Annually, each print newspaper reader makes a publisher about £500. Each digital open access reader makes a publisher less than 50p – and print readership is declining 20% year on year.

You would think the responsibility of saving the Internet should sit firmly with those profiting the most from its existence, but not providing any of the underlying value – the content.

But alas, this has not been the case. Even Sir Tim Berners-Lee (the inventor of the World Wide Web) in the FT has attacked Facebook, Google and Twitter for “promoting misinformation and ‘questionable’ political advertising while exploiting people’s personal data, in a stinging rebuke to the world’s biggest Internet companies”.

And don’t kid yourself that these guys care about anything other than their own interests (or their shareholders’). After all, in the blink of an eye Facebook went from being the provider of 80% of traffic to publishers to less than 20% with one change of an algorithm, in an attempt to keep readers within the Facebook ecosystem.

Or Google – whilst they have set up a fund of $300m to help publishers, they turn over more than $100bn ever year.
So not even a percent of their annual revenue goes towards helping content producers – the reason why we use Google Search after all!

If they really cared about publishers, they could have stop ad-blocking at source, by not allowing AdBlock Plus and others to integrate directly into browsers, reducing publisher digital revenue by 25%.

The decrease in Facebook’s publishers referral traffic in 2017
Business Insider

So brands, if you are going to have an Internet to advertise on, you need to make a stand today and follow the old rugby referee line “use it or lose it”.

Because by my calculation, most print publishers will not survive beyond the next fifteen years on their current business model of true open access. They will have two choices – cut costs further, and reduce editorial desks right down to the bone, or put up a paywall. Both of which only damage the Internet further.

Think I am being melodramatic?

Well roll back to 2002 when the great team at regional publisher The Boston Globe had a team of c.10 journalists working on just one story, for months at a time. Today, the open access paper’s journalists have to write multiple stories a week – with barely enough time to spell-check, let alone fact check.

The actors from the film Spotlight, based on the Spotlight team from the Boston Globe
The actors from the film Spotlight,based on the Spotlight team from the Boston Globe

No wonder fake news is impossible for the average member of the public to spot.

Unfortunately with the democratisation of content production, consumers have yet to develop a healthy cynicsim to the content.

And whilst so far this has not impacted any individual, other than a few general elections and votes to leave Europe, it will soon.

The next wave of democratisation is retail, where virtual stores are popping up on Instagram, without even a website. Take a nice photo, add an ‘add to basket’ button, and you can buy & sell without even leaving Instagram.

A great enabler for entrepreneurship, as was the case with content (PlayBuzz, Vice etc) – it will also be open to fraud. Consumers will need to get savvy quickly, the big platforms have already proven that they are only interested in profits.

So I think we can all agree that, in the famous words of Apollo 13, “we have a problem”.
I think we can also agree that for the greater good of democracy, and in turn society (or just because you actually need somewhere to put your ads!), we need to find a solution.

So how can brands actually help?

By asking just three simple questions to hold your vendors to account, and ensure your money is going into funding the internet, and not just someone’s pocket:

  • Do your tech vendors have direct relationships with the content producers of the internet? If they don’t, how can they be working with the content producers best interest at heart?

  • What business model do your tech vendors work on with the content producers? Rezonence works on a 70:30 revenue share, where we keep 30% of the revenue, and give the publisher (who have done the hard work of writing long form quality content, the reason consumers use the internet) 70%.

  • What is the yield of the pages where your ads are appearing? If it’s £10 per thousand impressions, and you have paid £1 for a video – don’t be surprised when ten videos are playing at the same time.

I think saving the Internet matters. So much so that four years ago, I left a well-paying job in investment banking at Citi to set up Rezonence – with the mission of funding journalism. I spend my days presenting exactly what I am speaking about here – to rooms full of people who completely agree that something needs to be done. But we need brands to do more than just listen and agree – we need them to act.

Charity needs to start at home!

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