Advertising: Who Cares? The Pros and...

By The Cog Blog Archives
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Prose -- It’s about a month since a Cog Blog co-authored with Nick Manning appeared, and kicked off what has become known as the ‘Who Cares?’ movement. Since then, we’ve had over 150 supporters approach us to offer to help. Many have asked to remain anonymous (hardly surprising given where they work). We’re happy to guarantee that.

Even (maybe especially) those inside the companies at the heart of the many criticisms around the industry aren’t it seems happy with what the ad business has become.

To balance things, we’ve had the usual, expected pushbacks. We’re just two old men harking back to the good old days; we’re dinosaurs; we’re anti online advertising; we’re anti agencies; we don’t understand the modern world; we simply don’t get social media / data / current systems / DSPs / SSPs.

All of this is rather tiresome even if some of it is undeniably true – I am indeed old.

The point is that the ad business is in a mess. Anyone who knows anything about it knows this to be the case but looks the other way. This is hardly some sort of golden era for advertising.

The question is not whose fault this is but how best to fix it?

Maybe the agencies’ trade association, the IPA (4A's in the USA)?

I have a long association with the IPA. I served on many of their working groups, represented the agency sector on several joint industry committees and was appointed a Fellow in 1983.

The IPA has always been a fine example of a trade body, well-funded and appreciated by its members.

But it looks to me as if today it is compromised. Is it there to represent the best interests of its members, including the holding company media agencies? Or to promote and support the ad industry?

Because right now those two things appear in conflict.

Both the IPA and the 4A's have decided that saying nothing is the best policy.

How about the usually oh-so-vocal large media consultancies, those who seek to ‘do media better’? Not a word, although a few individuals have joined us in a personal capacity.

Silence on these matters is not a good look.

The Who Cares? movement has from the start (all of one month ago) been clear about one thing. We are trying to make things better; and the first thing to do towards that goal is to talk about things openly and honestly. To shine a light where previously there have only been shadows.

We all know the problems, there are plenty of articles, blogs and podcasts doing a fine job. Simply repeating them gets us nowhere.

Nor does blaming anyone. We all have our bogeymen and our pet theories as to where exactly the industry has gone wrong, but there’s little point in having a crack at anyone or any sector.

What is clear is that the issues faced by the ad business have an impact far beyond the ad business. This isn’t a little local issue.

The media industry historically relied on advertising as a key source of revenue, along with the price paid by consumers for the content delivered.

Today that business model is shot. Few are prepared to pay for news, or content generally; and ad revenue taken by the publishers is now measured in cents not dollars.

The giant platforms have done a wonderful job for their shareholders by refusing to be categorised as publishers (‘publisher’ means taking responsibility for content) and have ripped apart the old ad revenue plus cover price model.

Over time they’ve misused data (Cambridge Analytica, anyone?), hidden audience statistics inside walled gardens to avoid scrutiny, and misstated audience numbers.

The scale of the main players and their disdain for any advertising form not controlled by them are not good for any of us.

This is not to say that advertising on FB, YouTube etc doesn’t have its place. Clearly, they reach loads of people and are enjoyed by many.

They are but the visible tip of an iceberg that siphons off so much money to un-necessary middlemen, to ineffective MFA sites, to tech that doesn’t do what it says on the tin, to ad fraud, that the true advertising industry is left decimated.

Since we broke cover, we have had individuals from trade bodies, advertisers, agencies, consultants, publishers, ad tech firms all ask to join us. We seem to have hit a nerve.

Given our backgrounds we naturally lean towards the ad business, hence the original Advertising: Who Cares? title.

But what’s happening in advertising impacts far more than advertising.

The benefits of a flourishing, diverse media with professional journalists seeking out the truth; the huge influence of the ‘old-fashioned’ TV world (the UK Post Office scandal brought to public attention not by Google, nor by Facebook, YouTube or TikTok but by ITV), these things are threatened by ad revenue being diverted.

This is nothing to do with harking back to some idyl; it is all to do with true freedom of expression, the importance and recognition of quality and the airing of sometimes uncomfortable truths.

Who Cares? is not against anything as such. We are for creative thinking, great and objective planning, and successful agencies paid properly for the business and brand building work they do.

We aim to shine a light on what’s going wrong, whilst providing a space for discussion hopefully leading to improvement. We really hope that all sides of the industry, even those who are yet to comment take part.

We strive for solutions, not whinging.

We are all pros, no cons.

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