Digital Advertising’s Lack of Transparency is This Year’s Main Focus

Digital advertising has long been controversial. From consumers decrying that advertisers have a lack of transparency to companies landing themselves in hot water for having advertisements appear next to controversial content, most experts agree there is a lot that needs to be changed with digital. This year’s primary focus is to do just that.

Digital advertising has been around for a relatively short period compared to print. The first digital ad was posted in the early 90s, whereas print advertisements were first seen over 300 years ago. Print has had the time to evolve and develop itself, while digital is still trying to catch its footing. This leads to problems for consumers and companies alike.

Consumers’ biggest complaint with digital advertising is there is no transparency. There is a lack of standards when it comes to publishers and their brands. Additionally, consumers have difficulty disseminating the information they view online. Facebook, for example, says it’s a tech company but almost all of its profits come from advertising and content, making it more of a media channel. This means Facebook and other social media giants aren’t held to the same scrutiny as many media outlets even though they post similar material.

As over 2/3s of American adults use social media as their primary news source, it’s crucial people trust where the information they’re reading is coming from and that it’s verified. Russia has been famously outed as being involved in the 2016 presidential election. Their involvement included targeted Facebook and Twitter ads that were designed to increase dissent about pressing issues and polarize presidential candidate support.

It’s remarkably easy and relatively cheap to purchase an online ad, something that Facebook is looking to make more difficult after Russian tampering. However, it’s clear that the holes present in digital advertising can make it easy for foreign powers to manipulate the way that others think. Some of the ads were even shared by members of President Trump’s campaign, further legitimizing them.

Companies also have concerns. A company’s arguably most important asset is their image. YouTube, and Google, famously got in trouble with companies such as Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble for airing their advertisements before racist and anti-Semitic videos. In the months following the backlash, YouTube tried to strengthen their A.I. flagging system, which led to many unrelated videos being demonetized, an issue they’re still working to correct.

Trust is an integral part of any marketing campaign, and lack of trust in digital marketing is hurting those on both sides. In the wake of this distrust, Procter & Gamble slashed their digital advertising budget last year and gave all of their digital advertising partners until the end of the year to fix their advertising flaws or lose their business.

Print remains one of the more trusted forms of advertising that seeks to educate instead of selling, among others. In the wake of “fake news” claims, foreign involvement in elections, and lack of transparency, it’s important to use a medium that consumers trust to reach them.

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