In 2015, former Mediacom CEO Jon Mandel stood in front of the Association of National Advertisers conference and told the industry what everyone already knew: agencies were using kickbacks and rebates as an alternative form of income, despite years of denying the practice.
In 2021, former Facebook employee Frances Haugen blew the lid off Meta’s avoiding appropriate measures to handle harmful content because… profits before principles, obviously. She came armed with mountains of data that substantiated her claims.
This year, we have former Twitter security chief, now whistleblower Peiter “Mudge” Zatko. He, too, came with tons of insider knowledge. He too testified to Congress. He too painted a picture of profits before principles.
He rightfully garnered a lot of attention for a message now echoed by others. Wired writes this week that “Brian Boland, a former vice president with Meta Platforms Inc.’s Facebook, and Alex Roetter, Twitter’s former senior vice president for engineering, warned the Senate’s homeland security committee that social media companies including YouTube, Twitter, Meta and TikTok have failed to address the harm their platforms can cause, including how their algorithms can amplify harmful content. They argued that the platforms prioritize profit over ensuring their users are safe.”
Apart from these large explosions, we have had continual firebombs about ad fraud, advertiser fleecing by certain less-than-pristine industry players, data breaches, inappropriate consumer tracking, phishing -- the list goes on and on (and on).
Still, investment in digital media continues to grow. Yes, there are some shifts taking place. And yes, some growth seems to stall. But that appears more a case of economical jitters rather than an industry suddenly growing a conscience.
I have said it before, and I will say it again: Not doing digital is, sadly, not an option. Every marketer and every medium IS digital. We operate in a digital world.
But what continues to baffle me is why advertisers are not banding together more strongly to drive out at least some of the most questionable behaviors and operators.
But Maarten, I hear you say, we have tried the Facebook ban and it did not work. And this is true. Large advertisers took Facebook out of their plans for a brief period of time in 2020. Sadly, the New York Times had to report: “The advertiser boycott of Facebook took a toll on the social media giant, but it may have caused more damage to the company’s reputation than to its bottom line. “
So clearly an ad ban did not work. And I doubt the U.S. government can come up with meaningful legislation to rein in the mess that the handful of digital giants is creating. I mean, Congress can’t even agree on what the issue is (“Harmful content that hurts various groups of the American population” vs. “You are trying to censor right-leaning messaging and hurting freedom of speech” vs “American consumer data is being given to China”). And I can't see the U.S. government breaking up any of the players (even if they tried, this would be years and years in the making).
Still, the real power to get anything done lies with advertisers. So what are you going to do?