Why Don't Advertisers Take A Stand?

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?

6 comments about "Why Don't Advertisers Take A Stand?".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 16, 2022 at 12:13 p.m.

    Maarten, one reason may be that in many cases the kinds of advertisers who are  fueling the continued growth of ad spend on digital venues are not all that concerned about the so-called  bad practices. For example, about half of digital ad dollars are spent by search advertisers who ---as a rule---pay per clickthrough. Why  should they care if many of their"impressions" are generated by fraudsters or that some ads cant be seen---if they don't pay for such "impressions"?Also, many are local or regional advertisers who simply don't know about the bad behavior or who feel that there is no point complaining as they are too small to carry any weight. Finally, the supposedly savvy branding advertisers, often  handle digital media via  their sales promotional folks---who have short term goals in mind, in contrast to the branding people---CMOs and brand managers-----who,often aren't directly involved. If, however, many of these bad practices were suddenly to manifest themselves on TV you can bet that there would be a huge and sustained uproar from the branding types ---and their agencies.

    One last point. While the sellers usually operate in more or less the same manner within their competitive set as regards ad sales, methods of measurement, ad scheduling, etc., there are many  tens of thousands of digital media advertisers ---each concerned almost exclusively about their own interests---not the  common good. It's asking much too much to expect all of these  entities---or even large blocks of them---to take the time and do the research to wage the kind of battle you are asking for. As I said, TV would be the only exception, but here only a thousand advertisers account for 90-95% of national TV ad spend, so a concerted effort to right things if they went way off track would not be out of the question.

  2. Stewart Pearson from Consilient Group, September 19, 2022 at 12:09 p.m.

    Maarten, Ed, the problem is endemic for all the reasons you cite: short-termism from large brands, lack of alternatives from the The industry is literally in the pocket of the digital monopolies destroying brand value and competition.  There are notable voices making the case, including the Conscious Advewrtising Network and Institute for Advertising Ethics but their efforts are not yet well coordinated.  The path to systemic change with actionable forward steps is laid out in the book The Digital Republic The industry should invite Jamie Susskind to consult. Stewart

  3. Jon Mandel from Dogsled Enterprises Inc, September 19, 2022 at 2:36 p.m.

    To be is every medium even the legacy ones. There is plenty more that would/should shock you. But I have said enough on this subject in my lifetime. 

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 19, 2022 at 7:30 p.m.

    Jon, you are probably right---it applies to all media. The reason---which I have stated often---is that most CMOs and brand managers as well as  those at the top of major branding advertising companies believe that the "creative" function---brand positioning strategies and, especially, ad crafting---- are the whole ball game---which is a mistake., in my view. But they simply aren't listening.

  5. Gabriel Greenberg from Octillion, September 21, 2022 at 1:51 p.m.

    Yes I struggle with the same issue day in and day out. There are many issues that can be addressed but some agencies and some brands are ok with the status quo. 

    Buyers are being taken advanatge of in the market, several chaulk up this as a cost of doing business or feel the cost of change based on thin resources is more of a task than saving the brand or business the extra costs and fraud, and for the life of me I do not understand why we still face this inertia at such an alarming scale? 

    The sickening part is that others are in worse positions, stil taking rebates or kick backs. This misaligned incentive (at such a scale it still exists) will ban the true change at scale the market needs. The unfortunate part is the business owner, brand or agency owner is the one who suffers most in all of this and in many cases, they would love to have the change. 

  6. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 22, 2022 at 9:34 a.m.

    Getting thousands of "advertisers" in hundreds of categories to care about anything but their own interests---even if it's actually in their long term interest--- is like trying to get all of The United Nations  united about something that matters. Just about every advertiser is focused on the short term and their own individual issues.   It's a hopeless task.

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