The Fishbowl Live: Talk on brand safety needs to turn into action

The Fishbowl Live: Talk on brand safety needs to turn into action
(From left) Cornish, Kilby, Fleetham, Spencer-Hayes and Sagar
The Future of Audio and Entertainment 2024

Agencies and advertisers need to “push back” on “the flood of money” going into social and untrusted environments, according to sales leaders.

Speaking at a special live rendition of The Fishbowl, Simon Kilby, managing director at Bauer Media Advertising, said trust and brand safety “100% should be the biggest issues in the industry”.

He said: “For me, not just as a media professional but a father of two boys, the impact that’s having on the mental health of young people in this country is really significant. And my view is agencies and clients should be doing more to push back on this. I think there’s a real danger that, in 15 years, the next generation in media will look back and think that this generation was asleep at the wheel.”

Kilby added that the defence of social content, and the money following it, was “starting to sound a little bit” like cigarette company executives in the 1970s and 1980s denying the link between smoking and cancer. “Everyone talks about it, but that talk has to come into action at some point,” he pointed out.

James Cornish, senior vice-president, international sales, at Vevo, agreed that while trust and brand safety were “at the forefront of most conversations” with clients, there is “a disconnect” between that and “whether it’s acted upon”.

Indeed, James Fleetham, director of clients, marketing and research, at The Guardian, acknowledged that clients are often worried about how to “wean” themselves off a process that “mindlessly ploughs money into Meta and Google”.

He said: “But that is the process we’re stuck in. People know it, and don’t like it, and don’t like the way it’s going. But it’s not on any one person — we’re all going to have to come together to sort that out.”

Cornish added that the problem is that digitally delivered media, which is now effectively all media, has “stepped away” from traditional planning and “run away a little bit with technology” to find audiences, black boxes and cheap quantity.

He explained: “We can dress up media with data to get value out of it and that’s led us down a path where we devalue quality, trusted publishers. Content in digital environments, and therefore digital, suffers from a lot of the brand-safety issues… it doesn’t get the credit it can and should rightly deserve from a branding perspective, if we appraised it in the same way that we do all other channels.”

How worrying is AI?

Around the subject of trust, a member of the audience asked the panel how concerned they were about AI deepfakes in media and advertising.

Kilby stressed that people come to “our brands” because they trust them, so deciding to do anything in the AI space that could “break that trust” would need to be considered “very carefully”.

He gave an example of Bauer creating an AI version of presenter Fleur East for the Hits Radio Breakfast Show that “sounded fine”, but listener feedback suggested it “lacked connection”.

Kilby added: “You can imitate the voice, but it’s not Fleur. So I think in terms of on air, in our trusted environments, we’re a very, very long way from that.”

Fleetham said that “synthetic content” was “a concern”, but AI will inevitably bring in “some great things and some less great things”.

The Guardian is already seeing AI’s impact on its business because it is changing the way people search for information, with fewer people having to visit a publisher website even if the answers originate from a publisher.

Fleetham suggested there is an “opportunity” for trusted, established media brands to be “by humans, for humans”. He added: “As the internet becomes increasingly flooded with synthetic content, I think if you have that credibility and that trust, then it means what you stand for, what you are, becomes even more important and readers will appreciate that and listeners will appreciate that and advertisers will appreciate that.”

The “Fishbowl Live” panel at The Future of Audio and Entertainment was hosted by The Media Leader reporter Ella Sagar and also featured Lisa Spencer-Hayes, head of digital advertising and content partnerships at Formula One.

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