- Advertisers have been complaining about brand safety issues on the web. Some are even threatening to pull ad spending from the big tech platforms.
- Yet the truth is, few brands will follow through on such sweeping threats. And the harsh reality is that any single ad boycott would barely hurt Facebook and Google.
- Brands don’t have much leverage, but one way they could hurt the tech giants is to thwart their plans to grab TV ad spending. That would mean cutting off money to programs like Facebook Watch and Google Preferred.
- But it’s not entirely clear if marketers know what they really want out of this battle.
Big marketers have been yelling at Facebook and Google a lot lately. They are furious about brand safety and bad measurement, divisive conversations, and ads next to creepy kids videos and ISIS clips.
Unilever’s CMO Keith Weed caused a huge stir in the advertising world when he seemed to indicate he might actually yank his ad budgets from the big tech platforms if they didn’t clean up their act.
“We will prioritize investing only in responsible platforms that are committed to creating a positive impact in society,” he said during a speech on Monday at an ad conference.
But Weed clarified his position in an interview with Business Insider, saying that he prefers to negotiate with these tech giants, hoping to apply pressure in private.
Maybe that’s all this is really about. Big marketers like Unilever just want some kind of leverage against the duopoly, which is sucking up nearly all the ad digital ad money.
Or maybe some brands just can’t afford a shred of embarrassment. Especially at time when nearly every single ad category is getting violently disrupted. There’s a retail apocalypse! Everybody already has a cellphone! Craft beer!
Brands maybe just can’t take the PR hits anymore. That’s perhaps why AT&T still has YouTube in a time out – and hasn’t advertised on the Google-owned platform in a year. It’s not a good look for a marketing giant to not seem to know what it’s doing in digital media or not have control of where its budgets are being spent.
Oh I’m so scared
Here’s the harsh reality for these marketing titans. Their threats, empty or otherwise, have little chance of making an impact on Google or Facebook.
Look at what’s happening in advertising broadly. A new wave of small to mid-sized marketers, driven by data and software-centric buying and analytics, are growing like crazy while the Unilevers and Procter & Gambles and other classic marketers are barely growing.
All of these newbie marketers are spending on Google and Facebook. They’re seemingly not all that hung up on brand safety, as long as they’re hitting their customer acquisition targets. There’s thousands of them.
In other words, Facebook can live without Unilever. YouTube doesn’t really need AT&T. Just check out these two company’s recent earnings announcements. Facebook’s ad revenue was up nearly 50% in 2017. Google pulled in a cool $26 billion during its last quarter, which was actually a bit below Wall Street expectations. On the company’s earnings call, executives hardly discussed brand safety. But they did talk up YouTube’s ad momentum.
So what can brands really do? Hit the platforms where it hurts.
That is, if you really want to force Facebook and Google to bend, big marketers can keep away the TV money both platforms so desperately want by playing hardball.
If you’re serious, choke off Facebook Watch
This fledgling platform is where Facebook badly needs help from large advertisers. Its very existence is about going after the kinds of classic ad money that mostly ends up in TV, still a $70 billion plus a year business.
You want to make Facebook sweat? Don’t help them get Watch off the ground. Say you’re not going to run any ads in Watch until you get assurances that Facebook really has a handle on fake news, toxic conversations, metrics, or whatever it is you are really mad about.
Defund Google Preferred while you’re at it
It’s harder for any one brand to really dent YouTube, which has millions of advertisers buying ads programmatically. Google Preferred, which cordons off the top channels on YouTube for high-paying advertisers, is Google’s big play for TV budgets.
But what if multiple brands stop funding it? Hey big marketers, if you’re really mad, stop inking monster upfront Preferred ad deals. And for that matter, don’t support Google’s advertiser friendly original YouTube shows, until you get what you want. Whatever that is.
Right now, Google and Facebook are doing fine. But to grow into their massive market caps, they want that TV ad money. If you really want to put a scare into them, take it away.
But that won’t happen
The reality, of course, is that big brands won’t do that. They might keep protesting loudly in public. But they’ll surely keep running ads on Facebook and Google. They are simply too dominant – they own the mobile phone in a way that the TV networks controlled the dial in the 1980s.
Plus, if Facebook and Google can’t see everything that happens on their platforms, how will brands ever really never know whether their demands are being met. In truth, they probably don’t want to know.
After all, both Google and Facebook have vowed to take numerous costly measures to make sure that brands don’t have their ads end up in bad places on that platforms. Google is having humans review all videos on Preferred. Facebook is essentially breaking up with news by deprioritizing such content in its news feed. They both seem to be trying hard to make brands feel safe and happy.
So what would ultimately satisfy the Keith Weeds of the world? 100% assurances that YouTube won’t ever have any even remotely objectionable content? And that people will stop yelling at each other about Trump on Facebook? That’s highly unlikely to happen as these platforms remain open. It’s actually why lots of people like them.
So even if there’s an ongoing toxicity purge, how will brands ever know things are all cleaned up?
That is, if cleaning up the web is really what this is about. And that these public outrages aren’t just ways for big brands to get something they can hang over a pair of 800-pound gorillas that only keep getting stronger.
Brands care about making the world a better place, right?