Some major brand advertisers in the U.K. are pulling their spots from YouTube over concerns about content and ad placement. If U.S. political marketers decide to follow suit, they might not find a suitable alternative, according to one expert.
New figures show that Google and Facebook have taken a stranglehold on online ad spending. While there are alternatives, they can’t yet match the reach of the so-called duopoly, according to digital consultants.
Now, the online advocacy world was once an area where consultants’ forged reputations seemingly overnight and challenged established candidates on shoestring budgets. But lately the sector is looking a lot like traditional media consulting. Although instead of “buy the evening news,” there’s “buy Google search and Facebook display ads.”
A new study predicts the latter will net 39.1 percent of the U.S. display market this year, while Google will take 78 percent of search advertising.
As the pie for digital ad spending grows, it’s primarily benefiting the aforementioned duopoly. To wit, while digital ad spending in the United States is projected to reach $83 billion this year, according to a recent eMarketer survey, 90 percent of the new dollars being spent are going to Google or Facebook.
In fact, political marketers are falling victim to the same trap that’s ensnaring their brand counterparts, according to Brian Ross Adams, a Democratic digital consultant.
“Digital consultants have been advocating for more of a share of the campaign spending budget, and they’re starting to get it. But they’re going into products that are safer,” Adams said. “Facebook and Google are really good ways to go because they [allow clients to] make the psychological leap, ‘mail goes to confirmed voters and these platforms go to confirmed voters.’”
That isn’t to say that other platforms shouldn’t be used by campaigns, they might just be better for “overall brand awareness,” according to Adams.
“There’s Spotify, there’s Pandora and now there’s Snapchat, but they are kind of insignificant in comparison to those two [Facebook and Google],” Adams said. “Spotify and Pandora can become the next robocall, but their minimum spends are high for local races.”
Snapchat is another platform that could begin to challenge Facebook and Google’s ad market share, but it has some obstacles to overcome. “There’s a barrier to entry for people using it. I see a lot of accounts that just go inactive. I think they have to do some work on that if they want to get some adoption from older voters,” said Adams.
Another challenge is that the platform’s advertising has to blend with the rest of the content to be effective. “The advertisers have to look like organic presentation,” he said.
Adams speculated that the reason why Google and Facebook have seen such success is because of their ease of use for marketers.
“You’re using their advertising system, but their larger ecosystem is so large — Facebook is going be advertising on your TV and apps on your phone. You’re just using their functionality, but you’re hitting the entire internet and even your home now,” Adams said. “It’s like buying a television ad.”
Despite this dominant market share, Google and Facebook both recently announced new accountability measures to help improve trust in their metrics. Those measures were unveiled as both companies are coming under increased criticism from brand advertisers.
Google, for instance, has been sharply criticized by Martin Sorrill, the head of the advertising conglomerate WPP, for allowing digital ads to play ahead of videos promoting anti-Semitism and terrorism. That’s prompted the British government and a growing number of major advertisers to pull their ads from the site. Sorrill has called on YouTube and Facebook to better screen where they places ads. “They cannot masquerade as technology companies, particularly when they place advertisements,” Sorrill recently told the Wall Street Journal in a statement.
On Monday, a Google executive in London apologized for the ad placements, and on Tuesday the company said it was taking new measures to ensure ads weren’t placed ahead of offensive content. “We know advertisers don’t want their ads next to content that doesn’t align with their values,” Google Chief Business Officer Philipp Schindler said in a company blog post. “So starting today, we’re taking a tougher stance on hateful, offensive and derogatory content.”
Steps include removing ads “more effectively” from offensive content and “tightening safeguards” on its YouTube Partner Program.