Advertising in 2022: Time to Look Up

For those who haven’t seen it yet, it should suffice to say the recently released Netflix film Don’t Look Up is about the collective indifference and ignorance of the masses when it comes to a massive problem that stares them right in the face. The science is clear as day: the problem is real, and we can do something about it. However, facts and science are no longer respected the way they used to be.

To clarify, the threats of the (largely ignored) issues in advertising are nowhere near as existential to the human race as an actual comet heading to earth. However, a global advertising economy that is expected to reach over $1 trillion in global spend in 2024 warrants committed attention and collective action of advertiser leadership.

Here are some inconvenient truths stated as bluntly as possible in the hope that we might finally see some significant momentum behind the much-needed change in our industry.

Cut the…garbage

Advertising, and digital advertising in particular, is riddled with wastage. The numbers are staggering and the underlying issues have been reported on endlessly. When we start working with clients, we structurally encounter 15%-50% of spend being wasted.

The wasted investments are often also far from harmless; in many cases unknowingly funding malicious or criminal networks or posing severe brand risks due to the nature of the content environment in which ads are placed. And for those who think it’s difficult to spot this: you’re wrong. Even a very simple top-level platform report can provide immediate actionable insights to help cut waste.

Leave the notion of “cheap reach” behind and carefully curate your inventory network. Smart adversaries are siphoning off ad dollars as control and governance is lacking.

Move to an inclusion strategy and avoid “made for advertising” inventory that exists purely to make money. And make sure the setup of your supply chain is as efficient and direct as possible—it’s really not rocket science (pun intended).

Buy responsibly

The money invested in advertising helps the businesses that own the infrastructure and real estate grow. You are directly funding a myriad of service, technology and media businesses as a result of your ad campaigns; this means you need to consider the consequences of your decisions.

Investing in advertising on a platform that spreads harmful disinformation results in more money for that platform to expand its reach and influence. Buying ads on “news” outlets that structurally push a climate-change denial agenda has a direct negative impact on global progress and societal support for action. Companies that operate in ways that don’t align with the corporate values of advertisers should be defunded by these advertisers—it’s as simple as that.

It’s even better to see and embrace the opportunity this brings when we look at it in a different light: advertisers have the means to make businesses thrive. Make your money speak.

Invest proactively in businesses that do align with your corporate values and provide a platform for those that deserve growth. Ad dollars enable these businesses to invest in quality content and features, which further attract valuable audiences.

Advertisers have a responsibility to invest responsibly and guard against the malpractice of their suppliers. This requires a “responsibility by design” approach and, just like in the previous section, a carefully curated network of trusted partners.

Follow the science, not the hype

The “burden of proof” in advertising is rarely assigned to one specific party. If you are a business that is about to invest 10 million dollars worth of grade A steel for a construction project, you better make sure the steel is thoroughly tested and proven to meet your requirements. Collapsing skyscrapers would be a much more regular headline if this would not be the case.

For some reason, however, hundreds of millions of dollars are thrown into unproven advertising platforms and media outlets every year. Why? Because eyeballs have never before in history shifted so fast between different devices and platforms.

To an extent, it is right for advertisers to explore new media and stay closely attuned to the rapidly changing cultural and technological dynamics. However, it is time to start applying more scientific rigor to proving the value of dollars invested.

Advertisers need to start thinking like portfolio investors and the returns need to be maximized. Force yourself and your partners to carefully test and prove the relative value of different options for advertising and stick with the numbers.

Just because it’s easy to mindlessly follow eyeballs and optimize to bad KPIs like “cheap CPMs” or “clicks” does not make it right. The addiction to cheap reach has created a false economy and frankly this has been going on for far too long.

Time to look up

The data and guidance is there for the taking and it has been for years, yet progress is agonizingly slow. It’s time to look up, face the facts and get your house in order. It may seem like an overwhelming task, but just remember there is only one way to eat an elephant: one bite at a time.

Published on AdWeek, see here.

First Featured: 21/01/2022

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