As of late, headlines have been trending in the advertising world that would make any Luddite proud. P&G recently made the claim that reducing its “digital” ad spending by $200 million actually resulted in greater reach. And Unilever, having steadily reduced its digital ad spending, has taken cuts a step further as an ethics statement against the duopoly of Google and Facebook.
On the surface, this is news that delivers comeuppance against the foes of the old guard. Digital was just a temporary flash in the pan, and worth cutting in favor for other channels.
Fraud, bots, viewability — oh my!
But that couldn’t be further from the truth. What is happening is a sea change in the digital advertising landscape that is long overdue. Lax analytics, murky viewability, and targeting that never delivered on its promise are all symptoms of a system that has been high in profit, but bankrupt in efficacy. In addition, increasing fake traffic and bots underscore the need for further development in the underlying technology in digital advertising.
So, when two of the largest CPG conglomerates in the world are featured in the news for cutting ineffective digital ad spending, it’s actually good for digital. It pushes ad networks to clean up their act and encourages agencies and buyers to up their rigor and demand transparency.
Viewability is one of the biggest concerns in digital, and there is some absurdity that it’s an issue that hasn’t been solved in the year 2018. Granted, some networks have been more proactive on this subject, such as Google with its Active View technology. There are varying levels of transparency on this issue, but we can and need to do better. Social doesn’t fare much better, and Facebook made headlines last year for a lack of viewability in its video ads. Advertisers deserve more transparency.
There’s more to digital
Fraud and viewability aside, brands also must think beyond display. Now more than ever, the efficacy of banner ads is being questioned. Modern digital advertising can offer engagement and precise targeting beyond the wide-swath approach. The ability to weed through promising ad tech and wasteful gimmicks will be an important role for media buyers.
Creative also needs to re-align to these opportunities. The matching luggage approach of copying and pasting a campaign across myriad units has limited efficacy. Through data and ad tech, we can and should tailor our advertising and experiences to specific audiences and platforms. Content and creative should be contextual to the place it’s being seen. An ad should feel different on Instagram vs. a display ad on Amazon. Instead of blanketing advertisements, think of what value a brand can provide to the audience: a fun game, a useful utility, or simply a good laugh. Digital has the power to make a profoundly direct connection.
A brave new world
The advancement of cognitive technologies and programmatic further underscores the need for better checks and balances. AI will not only streamline programmatic but enable tailored creative and messaging to audiences on the fly. Someday, AI-driven ads may be able to anticipate a consumer’s purchase consideration, as well as their wants, needs, and interests, serving messaging that’s one-to-one in a way we can only dream of now. But as the old adage reminds us: garbage in, garbage out. These technologies will not solve digital advertising’s problems and can only help if a strong foundation is in place.
Digital is going nowhere. We will see digital budgets continue to increase and eclipse traditional. The world continues to move toward digital, and the way we consume content is increasingly moving towards streaming and multi-device. The reality is, Unilever still spends 120% more in digital media than it did in 2012. What we’re seeing from large brands is a temporary — and much needed — protest against a flawed system that just happens to have limitless potential in the future.