2017 -- The Year Digital Finally Started Growing Up

I am not usually one for nostalgia at the end of a year, or for making predictions. However, when a year has such a clear character, it's worth breaking a rule with the final London Blog of 2017.

The year we've just lived through has been a very interesting one, to say the very least. Donald Trump in The White House and the UK drawing up a divorce agreement with the EU after the Prime Minister was very nearly ousted. She took that gamble on favourable poll results, repeated a robotic line over and over again and only clung on to power by shaking the magic money tree and finding a billion pounds to buy the support of the DUP.

The year in digital media and marketing was just as interesting. For the observer, there was one major link between all the happenings. Digital grew up. 

In social media we have Facebook and Twitter investigating fake news and beginning to take more responsibility for the content they publish. In fact, that's the keyword here -- publish. Social media giants are waking up to the responsibility of being publishers.

They have been hauled over the coals by the UK government repeatedly and are now promising more staff to vet content and take down offensive material. 

The biggest development of the year, however, has to be brands beginning to stand up and be noticed. Just ask YouTube. Two boycotts this year already -- and that's just over brand safety.

Brands have also been seeking greater transparency all year with their agencies, and they are starting to get it. There's even now a new agency using the technology behind bitcoins to leave a cookie crumb trail of where a brand's money has been spent. 

Nevertheless, Adobe ended the year with a report that by 2022 nearly two in three brands will have taken their programmatic advertising in-house. Perhaps this stepping up to the plate has come a little too late for some?

At the same time publishers have started to grow up too. Sadly it's a little late and it is slow but many are starting to listen to the excellent work done by the Coalition for Better Ads. In fact, the coalition is due to roll out a Better Ads Experience programme that publishers can sign up to in the New Year. Anyone who can't stand auto play videos, pop-ups and ads covering over copy will want to make a note of which publishers sign up to this. I will be first in line.

And we have Google dropping its controversial 'first click free' approach that many were using to regularly get around paywalls. 

It is good timing, because when I looked into quality newspapers online earlier in the year, the view back from the industry was that subscriptions are at an all-time high. Fake news and boredom with agitator sites has driven readers to take a flight to quality and the household names in print are the big benefactors of this in digital.

Those who rely on advertising alone can take a little comfort that ad blocking appears to have plateaued at around one in five internet users. It's not great news but at least adoption rates have stalled. 

So if anything, I'd say we're nearing the end of the year when digital marketing and media finally began to grow up and take responsibility.

Publishers have begun to understand that annoying ad formats are exactly that and ad blockers appear to have realised they need to consume ads along with that content they're not paying for. 

Where the future looks a little less clear is the relationship between agencies and brands. The year of the transparency debate has surely got to reset conversations between the two, hasn't it?

While publishers settle down to focus on experience, brands are taking the initiative in the debate over a better deal where the money they put in is reflected in more media and less middlemen payments. That, for me, is going to be the big thing to watch out for in 2018. Do the brands trust agencies, or are we going to see more media taken programmatic and in-house?

It will be fascinating watching that one unfold in 2018.

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