Viewability, Fraud, Ad Blocking, Kickbacks -- Is There Any Trust Left In Media?

Talking with an old pal at The Guardianthe other day made me realise something quite alarming. Neither of us could think of a time in the media landscape when there was so little trust between audience, publishers, advertisers and agencies. The conversation was an impromptu chat about an upcoming conference the newspaper is running. 

There are some very obvious, very public issues that leap out straightaway. The fact that my teenage daughter doesn't trust the YouTubers she watches religiously to admit they are being paid to promote a product sums up the audience issue. While respected media outlets are generally good at flagging up native content, vloggers have had to be warned time and time again they must provide clarity around commercial relationships. ISBA has come up with a generic contract for vloggers, and on the brand safety side, YouTube has taken the step of labelling some cussing "stars" as not advertiser-friendly. So video and influencer marketing have a huge trust issue.

Then there's the elephant in the room -- ad blocking. Publishers simply can't rely on readers to keep up their end of the unwritten bargain that in return for getting free content they consumer accompanying advertising. Without this, native is becoming far more important -- which, in turn, makes readers wonder whether commercial relationships will one day shape the news. Here are the headlines, sponsored by Samsung/Apple -- is that really too much of a stretch to imagine?

At the same time, publishers can't rely on reader loyalty. Visits to newspaper home page are way down as we all increasingly find out stories through social media. Facebook delivers more news and has more news reader attention than the rest of the UK media market put together. So one in seven readers are blocking ads and most are now fickle, reading what pops up in their timeline.

It's the same when it comes to advertisers, publishers and media agencies. Viewability and fraud are huge issues which the IAB UK is working hard to get vendors certified for but advertisers and their agencies are obviously hugely concerned that budget is going in to inventory that is never seen by a human. At the same time, advertisers have lost a lot of trust with their media agencies. The murky world of rebates makes a brand wonder whether their budget is being placed where it suits the agency more than them and earns kick-backs which they never see.

Where we go from here is not clear. My only firm prediction is that the future has to see native more central to media plans. With ad blocking rife and viewability a huge concern, brands are already ramping up their content marketing efforts and publishers, suffering from the Facebook effect, are going to need to get paid for the content itself rather than the advertising around it.

What is clear, however, is that the unofficial bonds of trust between the industry's players have never been under so much stress. Sure, there's never been a perfect time -- but I seriously can't remember when trust between all parties was at such a low. Can you?

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