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Advertisers asked to invest with a conscience in wake of child safety scandals

Advertisers asked to invest with a conscience in wake of child safety scandals

Advertisers should be more “ruthless” in choosing which media platforms they support, according to the chair of Thinkbox, in another public spat between the highly regulated TV industry and the scandal-prone online world.

Speaking at ISBA’s annual conference this week, Tess Alps said that in the wake of recent child safety scandals at both YouTube and Facebook, advertisers had an obligation to make investment decisions that factor in the impact they could have on society.

“I know lots of online platforms have made substantial efforts to improve, and they are getting better, but are they moving fast enough; or are they doing just enough to stop us from moaning before the next scandal?” Alps said to a room of senior marketing and media agency bosses on Tuesday (5 March).

Advertisers should leverage their investments wisely and be “much more ruthless” in who they do and do not support in the effort, she said. As a barometer of audience sentiment, Alps received the only mid-panel applause throughout the conference for her comments.

Since the start of the year, Facebook-owned Instagram has been embroiled in a high profile case in which its algorithms served suicide and self-harm content to children, while on Google-owned YouTube paedophiles were able to make lewd sexual comments on innocent videos featuring children.

Both platforms have made efforts to end the problems, and have worked with NGOs, charities and the police over the matter. However, the scandals join a long line of other brand and public safety blunders dating back several years.

Speaking to Mediatel after the panel, Alps said: “It’s incredible that we think it’s OK for this content to appear in front of consumers – and then for those platforms that post the content to make money from it.”

Advertisers who argue that social media platforms are too important to their business to ever pull their advertising completely are missing the point, she added.

“30 years ago, would you have minded if your shoes were made by child labour if it worked for you? It would be massively embarrassing. Why aren’t [advertisers] equally as embarrassed about this? I see it as being just as poisonous to society.”

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A global campaign is needed to put pressure on those media platforms to fix their problems faster, and it should start with advertisers’ money, she said. “Advertisers have the power in their own hands.”

Phil Smith, director general of ISBA, told Mediatel he agrees that brands have a responsibility to hold the platforms they fund to account, “just as they would anyone else in the supply chain.”

However, it is up to individual advertisers to make their own decisions about what is right for their brands, he added.

Meanwhile, Google’s UK marketing director, Nishma Robb, said Google’s “number one priority” is child safety, and outlined the steps YouTube had made in recent weeks to reassure the public – including disabling comments on all child-related content.

Robb said many of the issues could also be resolved through machine-learning coupled with human oversight – which already captures the majority of unsafe content before it is uploaded. And, like Facebook, the business is working with NGOs, charities and the police to resolve threats.

However, asked if YouTube will ever be 100 per cent safe, Robb said, “I don’t think that’s a reality for the platform.”

Similarly, Steve Hatch, Facebook’s VP for northern Europe, said the scrutiny placed on the platform was “justified”, but added that Facebook would invest more in user safety and security this year than the entirety of its revenues the year the social media platform IPO’d.

“If you want to judge a company by the way it invests, then that is what is important to us,” he said.

Speaking to Mediatel after the event, Hatch added that he believed Facebook and Instagram were a “force for good.”

“But I also hear loud and clear the concerns of our advertiser partners that invest on our platforms,” he said. “They want us to take leadership, and we are. […] Our goal is to draw the widest circle of responsibility for tackling these issues.”

Hatch also said dealing with these challenges was an evolving challenge which requires vigilance, the ability to adapt quickly and collaboration with industry and Government – “including looking at ways to work together on regulation in areas where we don’t think it makes sense for a private company to set the rules on its own.”

He added that effectively managing these challenges is Facebook’s “top priority” as an organisation, “and I can promise you that we will not stop working as hard as we possibly can across all these areas.”

Trust was the defining feature of ISBA’s 2019 annual conference, and has culminated in the launch of a whitepaper and partnership between the main advertising trade bodies: ISBA, the IPA and the Ad Association.

Led by the AA, the bodies, alongside other industry groups and businesses, have taken steps to try and reverse the decline in public trust by asking the industry to limit problems such as ‘ad bombardment’ and the perceived exploitation of vulnerable groups, such as gambling addicts and the financially insecure.

In a paper published last month by Credos, it was revealed that public favourability towards advertising hit a low of 25% in December last year.

TessAlps, Chair, Thinkbox, on 07 Mar 2019
“I’m not sure how many presentations from Thinkbox you have seen, Nick, but it has always been a matter of honour to give all media full credit for what they uniquely contribute. In our early days we did some joint research with the IAB called ‘Better Together’ and we have also done joint research with Twitter, a natural companion to TV. We’ve also done research through various partners showing how TV works with search, email and other online response media.

So, I’m curious why you think that we spend all our time telling advertisers they are wrong to invest online. TV itself is increasingly delivered online. However, we do point out issues of concern - eg fraud, data abuse, lack of 3rd party measurement etc - with some online media as we might do with OOH or print, if those concerns existed. Our major study Profit Ability from 2017, conducted by Ebiquity and Gain Theory, was scrupulous in showing how almost all media can deliver profit for brands.

The issue addressed in this report is not about media effectiveness though. It’s about morality. It is a matter that pertains only to social media platforms where the public is given a loud hailer to distribute their own content and their own views. *99% of the time this is a wonderful thing but the 1% that is harmful, dangerous, anti-social or downright criminal is too high a price to pay, in my opinion. Many other people disagree with me. My comment about child labour I hope makes sense. Will brands look back in 20 years on their investment in social media platforms that don’t do enough to protect the public by pre-vetting content (and ads) and wonder how on earth they thought that was OK. I believe pressure from advertisers is one of the most effective ways to encourage Facebook and YouTube to move faster. Then brands will be able to advertise on these platforms with a clear conscience.

Incidentally, if you think online media don’t go round knocking TV, ask Facebook to show you a piece of research from 2018 they conducted which only addressed levels of attention paid to TV ads without even looking at attention paid to their own.

NickDrew, CEO, Fuse Insights, on 06 Mar 2019
“It's notable that when it comes to the different media lobbies, TV is the only one that actively pursues a strategy of berating advertisers for their choices. Print is more moderate (publishers are dependent on the web so focus more on quality and reach); radio reminds you of its ubiquity; and OOH is fairly low-key, all things considered. Digital doesn't tell advertisers they're wrong to buy other media, but instead focuses on giving them reasons to believe in online. TV, Thinkbox, and all its associated cheerleaders, is the only channel that actively goes out telling advertisers they're doing it wrong, telling agencies they’re wrong, and telling research companies (even, hilariously, ones it previously was keen on) they're wrong.
Looking at it agnostically, leaving aside the justifications, and moving on from “yes but they’re not telling the truth”, it’s informative to focus just on that difference in positioning and its impact.

*Overly simplistically, CMOs *want* to buy ads on Facebook, Snapchat and Google; they feel they *should* buy ads on TV. But work in sales long enough and you’ll know that you can’t harangue a client into wanting your product. They have to arrive at the decision themselves and believe in the product. And the more you tell them they’re making the wrong choice, the more they reflexively push back, unwilling to admit it. So a pitch of “if you buy the competition/ don’t buy us, you’re doing it wrong” may reassure TV loyalists, but does little to convince those currently not sold on TV. It doesn’t win wavering clients round, and doesn’t give them a compelling story that they can make their own.
TV has an inspiring story to tell, of unrivalled engagement, unimpeachable environment, and the unique dimension of people all over the country watching the same thing at the same time. It has reasons for brands to believe, if only it told them better. Trying to endlessly point out other media’s shortcomings as a sales pitch doesn’t TV do any favours – and it diminishes serious concerns about digital’s issues into partisan sniping.

Tess’s column last week was much better than this, and has much more to offer advertisers, agencies, and those looking to understand where to put their marketing money.

*This is probably the point that will be shot down, but at an industry level, away from the superstar CMOs and TV loyalists, this is very broadly the challenge TV runs into.”

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