The leading platforms of the digital ecosystem - Facebook and YouTube - have both made significant policy changes to their platforms over the last few weeks. These have served as a major wake-up call to brands and publishers.
The writing on the wall has never been more clear for publishers and brands - do not put all your eggs in one basket; in the case of digital advertising, two baskets.
Facebook’s recent announcement to deprioritise posts from brands and publishers comes as rude shock to these two communities that have been heavily dependent on Facebook to reach users and drive traffic back to their own websites.
Youtube’s partner programme tweak puts upcoming content creators at a disadvantage now. They cannot monetise their content unless they meet the minimum subscriber and view hours threshold. YouTube’s change in policy does not disadvantage brands, but it is still a significant move for the advertising community that has been fretting over brand safety. New content creators who already find it tough on YouTube will now have to rake in a significant number of view hours (4000) and subscribers (1000) to see money in the bank accounts. YouTuber PewDiePie believes that while this is harsh to content creators, it does seem fair. “There are only so many ads on YouTube. So cutting off ad revenue from channels that are uploading other people’s content or movies makes sense to me,” he noted.
The Facebook and Google duopoly that claims around 70 per cent of the global ad spends. Over the last few years organic reach of brands on Facebook has been consistently plummeting. “It was in the high 40% during 2011-12 and went down to 1% or less in 2014-15,” says Rahul Vengalil, Founder & Chief Executive Officer. Some say that in 2017 this number was down to zero. These were all sings that “that Facebook will be a completely paid platform,” said Gopa Kumar, EVP, Isobar India.
Facebook’s message was clear to brands: Pay or Perish. And Mark Zuckerberg’s latest statement that Facebook will return the platform to its core purpose of making and maintaining friends is a veiled message to message to brands and publishers. “Facebook is not a benevolent distributor of branded content but a company looking at profiteering. It cannot afford to alienate its core audience by just showing them brand pages or ads and therefore this move to control the newsfeed was inevitable. Advertisers moved to Facebook for the easy reach, but anything that is easy and free doesn't last long,” says Rashmi Putcha, Co-Founder & Director, LIQVD ASIA. She is quick to add: The party is over.
Agencies have been advising brands to look beyond the duopoly for a while now. “Facebook & YouTube are monetised platforms that want to earn revenues. They have been forced to tweak their rules because of media backlash & advertisers boycott. The digital fraternity needs to stop looking at these publishers for solutions,” observes Putcha.
Even though brands and publishers may want to move away from the two technology giants, the reach of the two is unparalleled. “Brands cannot afford to move away from Facebook at this stage, due to the reach and the targeting that is possible no this platform. All the other social platforms will only compliment the activities on Facebook, or to get additional reach/engagment,” says Vengalil.
Gopa Kumar, EVP, Isobar India, who advises advertisers to explore multiple platforms says that it will be hard to completely move away from Facebook. “Because there are limited ad units available, the bidding on these units will jack up prices, eventually resulting in brands pouring in more money into Facebook,” he says. “Brands will need to focus on shareable content rather than high quantity of content,” Kumar further adds. If brands do not crack the ‘sharable content’ formula, “it will have to be sponsored posts going forward,” he adds.
Putcha also notes that with organic reach likely to reduce even further, brands that desire a wide reach will need to spend more on ads and promotions to reach audiences. “Facebook & Instagram have bene testing ad units that will let businesses create a link between these platforms and WhatsApp. The more evolved brands might just be jolted by this new move (by FB) to re-look at their social media strategy which is increasingly becoming just another paid media platform and look at building their own communities which are meaningful and allow conversations between people of shared interests,” she says.
Speaking about platforms like WhatsApp for Business which has been launched in India, Instagram, etc, Kumar had a smart advice and warning for brands, “Enjoy it while its free; it will all start getting monetized.”
What about Brand Safety
After the instance of YouTuber Logan Paul sharing a graphic and bad-in-taste video featuring a dead body hanging from a tree that began trending on YouTube, the video sharing platform decided to review popular videos manually before placing ads. Marketers seem to feel reassured with YouTube’s initiative to manually review video and impose a minimum threshold for monetising videos.
“The update from YouTube seeks to ensure that brand ads won’t run on random, fly by night channels. But this is by no means even close to a solution for brand safety,” believes Putcha.
She says, “Along with aggressive measures of content review by both humans and machine learning algorithms, YouTube needs to enforce better targeting and segmentation measures. Smarter AI is the only real solution to solve the problem of safety but it is a mammoth task and will require collaborations with third party tech partners.”
Vengalil also feels that ensuring a minimum threshold is not enough to ensure brand safety deal with ad fraud. “What if the subscription is from Clicks Farms or Bots and not genuine users. YouTube needs to be open up its walled gardens to third party verification across Brand Safety, Ad Fraud & Viewability, wherein the impressions & delivery are independently verified by a third party,” he says.
Not just this, the journey towards a cleaner ecosystem will need to include “better awareness among advertisers, agency folks; creating accepted tolerances & guidelines. And improve the understanding of ad:Tech solutions; and penalise defaulters & fraudsters,” notes Vengalil.
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