A rather serious thought at a rather frivolous time of year

A rather serious thought at a rather frivolous time of year

It has been an eventful year in advertising – so here ISBA’s Bob Wootton joins up the dots and leaves us with a his closing remarks.

During the aftermath of the recent Paris atrocities, we saw the Belgian law enforcement agencies successfully asking citizens and the media alike to delay their social media posts so as not to alert the terrorist perpetrators to their actions in real time.

It worked, with many people looking to ‘break’ Twitter by posting pictures of cats in support instead. Afterwards, the police followed up by expressing their thanks with a picture of a bowl of cat food. Modern and brilliant.


This story further emphasises how important social media, especially Twitter, have become to news gathering and dissemination. And a reminder of just how essential they have become to terrorists and others who do not wish their fellow humans well.

Public debate rages across the world as to whether law enforcement agencies should have greater powers to ‘listen’ to social media channels.

Governments tend to argue that they must, while the channels themselves supported by civil liberties lawyers and other members of the liberal intelligentsia tend to argue otherwise.

Google, Facebook, Twitter et al are commercial companies whose stocks are publicly traded. Their valuations are geared closely to their subscriber numbers and their attendant ad revenues.

Advertisers continue to spend very serious amounts of money in these channels despite the emergence of the shortcomings in the digital media space which have now been well documented.

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What would happen if there was a movement, perhaps initiated by right-leaning newspapers, encouraging social media users to unsubscribe from social channels that did not allow authorities better access for preventing heinous crimes?

All have significant numbers of dormant and very infrequent users to whom this would mean little inconvenience, let alone hardship.

And what if individual advertisers who have a deep vested interest in democratic civil society and protecting its values also chose to exercise their choice in a competitive market?

Call this an extension of the Corporate Social Responsibility so many wear on their sleeves. Perhaps even give it a snappy new name – Corporate Societal Responsibility.

Just a thought.


The latest bliptrend seems to be to tell everyone what percentage is the optimum to spend here, there and everywhere.

At Google/YouTube’s spectacular, well-attended and doubtless expensive Brandcast event in October, we had statuesque UK MD Eileen Naughton telling us that 24% of all TV budgets should now be going on YouTube.

Nice try, but of course that will elicit plenty of legitimate challenge from the likes of our excellent and always excitable Thinkbox and its broadcaster members.

A fair list of other media owners is joining in too – not surprising as they all resent Google for stealing so much of their lunch through its almost complete domination of the supply of the marketers’ crack cocaine, Search. Competition and Markets Authority, anybody?

And more recently, we heard that we should be spending 45% of out-of-home budgets on digital displays. Yes, the media owners are understandably seeking to recoup their significant investment in these much more impressive but also more expensive displays, which they have obviously located at all their most prime locations. And from what I can gather, they do really pull in the revenue.

But this is not rigorous media planning. Before we know it, we’ll all be spending several hundred per cent of our budgets to these entirely spurious ‘norms’.

In a sense, this is a direct descendent of the way much media is traded on volume and share commitments instead of merit.

The media industry has been leeching some of its most talented planners as they realise that their carefully-crafted comms plans are hardly worth the paper they’re printed on as they get bent far out of shape once they’re fed into holding groups’ trading systems.

Another unintended consequence is that advertisers seek – and media owners can increasingly provide – agile solutions. Yet annual group deals hamper such agility, especially towards year-end.

Meanwhile, auditors tell me that they still regularly see ‘media plans’ with a line and a (usually hefty) budget for ‘programmatic’. And digital agency folk counter with some stinging criticism of auditors’ digital offerings.

Reminder: ‘programmatic’ is a way of trading, not a channel. Doubtless we’ll continue to see too much emphasis on self-interested iteration and not enough on going back to first principles and considering what it is we’re trying to do by advertising in the first place.

Hell’s teeth, we could even take a leaf out of Apple’s book – the largest company in the world spends nearly all its ad budgets in ‘old-school’ media.


A recent online newspaper article about the hacking of billboard sites during the recent Paris Climate Summit is a prime example of the problem with current online advertising – too many highly-invasive ads all over the place, greatly hampering reading and navigation.

The page reads great with an adblocker. No wonder adblocking is gaining ground – there simply has to be a better way than this and the sooner the whole ad industry engages on it substantively and constructively the better.

Then over the weekend I was trying to find a recent but unsatisfactory purchase which I’m challenging on my eBay, only for the thing I was looking for to be obscured by a persistent skyscraper overlay from a very well-known high-street bank.

Grr. It’s my job to defend advertising but I honestly find these hard to defend and am genuinely surprised at reputable companies presenting stuff like this.

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