Time for the media industry to rise up against the machines?

“Don’t be evil” so Google’s code of conduct says, but many in the media industry can be forgiven for thinking of the internet giant as a terminator as it, along with Facebook, hoover up digital advertising revenues around the world, writes Scott Armstrong.

But has the resistance finally started?

Out of Europe comes a slew of headlines reporting on companies pulling their adverts from the Google and YouTube over concerns that their brands were appearing alongside extremist content.

The Guardian, among a host of others, reported how the likes of Sky and Vodafone, and at least three banks, were pulling their advertising budgets, while French marketing firm Havas, whose clients include O2 and Royal Mail in the UK, pulled its adverts.

Publicis, the world’s third-largest advertising firm, said it was reviewing its relationship with Google and YouTube, the Guardian wrote, and though the world’s largest advertising firm WPP, via its media-buying division GroupM, has stopped short of cancelling ads it has written to major clients asking them how they wish to proceed.

Did the media industry of the future finally send its own John Connor back in time to stop the Skynet of today?

I don’t believe that Google is entirely evil, nor do I blame it for its success, we ourselves in the media (mostly in newspapers) allowed it to be elevated to Robot Overload status by not mounting more of a fight sooner.

Personally I’m with Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, who refers to Google and Facebook as ‘frenemies’. Both represent opportunity as well as threat, both can be lovable Arnie from Terminator 2 rather than the killer robot we all fear.

But that demands strength from us the media industry, moreover it requires belief.

These latest headlines could be a storm in the digital teacup or they could be the start of a movement by brands back to our engaged audiences in whom they can place their trust.

At the recent Digital Middle East conference of WanIfra (World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers) in Dubai I gave a brief overview of the Oman market, the scale of the fight for survival ahead of us and the strategies that can see us through.

On stage I returned to something I’ve written about before – belief in ourselves. I spoke about how exiting the ad networks and setting our stall out as a premium destination for advertisers had seen our digital revenue grow 10,000 per cent, rather than around 674 per cent if we’d relied on the dregs from Google.

Essentially clients and advertising agencies were told ‘if you want to speak to our audience you pay us’.

It has been interesting to see in 2017 that some advertising agencies are beginning to see the sense of our logic. Conversations that last year went ‘yeah we are going with GDN and Facebook’ are different this year. Agencies are realising there is scant money to be made for them in such a move, plus they are perhaps beginning to hear the growing argument that targeting engaged audiences – rather than the ‘spray and pray’ approach – works better. And of course brands have more control over what content they are seen next to, the subject of the recent negative headlines for Google.

For every mega-media site with hundreds of millions of pageviews for whom programmatic or ad networks may make sense, there are scores more smaller businesses worldwide for whom that simply will never create meaningful digital revenue.

Kicking the easy, but miserly, cash hit given by the ad networks requires willpower from these small to medium-sized media companies. It requires the strength to invest in sales teams and the belief in their own value proposition (and that of their audience) if they are to go cold turkey successfully.

But if not now, then when? Fight for your future, stand up for yourself, and sell yourselves like your lives, or at least livelihoods, depend on it – for they do.

To quote the Terminator franchise one last time: “Come with me if you want to live.”

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