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Fake ads storm threatens media buying model

Whether it’s fake news or fake ads (as we might call those next to to “inappropriate” videos on YouTube or Facebook) the architecture of the ad world is changing dramatically.

Suddenly, for example, there’s the opportunity for “old,” linear media to fight back. We may not have all those views, they can say, but we can prove our viewers are not viewing what they shouldn’t.

It’s a poser for the big agency groups too. They’re the driving force behind programmatic media buying which is the root of the problem. Mad and nasty videos are always going to find their way on to YouTube from time to time. The world doesn’t end. Facebook is a bigger problem because of the various ways of access into it. It’s easier to hide stuff and prevent it being removed.

But it’s programmatic media buying that legitimises all this in the sense that it becomes part of the revenue-generating fabric. And Google and Facebook generate more ad revenue than any other media owners (that’s what they really are) in the history of the world.

All the big marcoms groups have contrasting views on fake ads and that depends on how much they do it and how much they make out if it. Havas pulled all its ads in the wake of the scandal breaking; WPP, which is further advanced in programmatic than its rivals through its Xaxis subsidiary, didn’t. WPP has taken the lead in hammering Google and Facebook but hasn’t so far, adopted the nuclear option of pulling the lot. No wonder as it spends close on $10bn across the two.

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Interpublic’s Michael Roth, speaking at the current 4A’s Transformation conference, positioned himself artfully on the side of the angels, saying that IPG’s ‘open architecture’ allowed it to take a pragmatic view of these developments, working out client-by-client deals as it didn’t buy any media inventory itself.

And there’s the rub. Media agencies can’t become media brokers – i.e. principals in all this – without taking some of the responsibility. It’s in these agencies’ interests to whack out billions of ads cheaply across the internet (wherever they land) and then charge their clients as much as they can on top.

So far clients have put up with this because they, too, were attracted by the idea of cheap. So they shouldn’t grumble either. But now they are, of course. Something’s got to give and it won’t necessarily be Google or Facebook.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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