Transparency in advertising.

24th January 2024 by David Fenlon

A Great Escape: Kia & GB News

Motor vehicle manufacturer Kia was recently informed via their social media audience that an advert of theirs had appeared on GB News amid fanfare that the brand didn’t live up to its stated brand values, including respect for mankind and responsibility. This was a surprise to Kia, who had deliberately ruled out being shown on GB News to their agency and the broadcaster. The brand’s social media team immediately acknowledged this, stated that the advert had not been approved, that they were investigating, and that they were righting it with the group broadcaster all much to the applause of those on social media. No doubt this is an example of how to execute best practice on social media by using channels to engage in an ongoing dialogue with consumers, but it also is a story about scrambling to remedy a problem that wasn’t Kia’s fault in the first place. Also, intriguingly, it wasn’t he content of the advert which was the problem – it was that the advert was placed on GB News.

Kia’s escape from consumer condemnation and the brand damage that this can cause go to the heart of the problem of transparency in media, which remains unresolved. Brands lack awareness into where their campaigns are being advertised, making brand safety, measurement of performance and basic relevancy of message impossible to stay on top of. This opacity is a big potential revenue problem and ultimately, a huge risk for businesses. Nor is this a new problem - in 2016 brands on mass were unpleasantly surprised to discover that Google ads had unintentionally placed their adverts on extremist websites.2 Since then, there has been a regular cadence of brand advertising landing in completely irrelevant places, with many brands still unaware that this is affecting them. A brand has no hope of making its messaging contextually relevant if it doesn’t know the nitty gritty of its placements. In a highly cluttered content industry, this is simply wasted money.

Differing standards for different media types

Unfortunately, the numbers do not suggest that this transparency issue is on the path to resolution. 70% of audiences are hit by irrelevant adverts monthly and 24% are done so daily. 90% of consumers describe targeted ads as ‘annoying’. And nearly half of consumers view a brand in a more negative light if it appears next to offensive content.

Some of this is down to systematic issues arising from legacy structures. In yonder year, brands, broadcasters and agencies used a CPM buying metric to trade TV and radio easily en masse. Except for the most premium shows which can be sold individually, this has remained in place untouched. Adverts are placed where the broadcaster can fit them, and it may not be immediately clear where this will be until after the event. Whilst display and then social media platforms were held to higher standards for audience measurement than TV & radio (audience actuals being asked for rather than projections), the exact positioning of the advert still lacks transparency. Contrasted with emerging media platforms such as influencers, podcasts and gaming advertising options and you have a very odd system of double standards. In these areas, metrics including exact knowledge of where the advert is placed and what the brand is associated with are basic requirements, and the consumers reached are the same.

Formulaic advertising campaigns belie an enormous risk to brands

Contextually relevant advertising results in 87% more viewership from audiences and of 40% more memory recall of the advert amidst viewed audiences.6 However, it often needs a human to judge whether a placement is relevant or not. Brands could be missing out on double digit growth if these numbers are anything to go by.

The need for human input doesn't fit the narrative of an adtech industry trying to make advertising success replicable and predictable, with cheaper inputs yielding greater revenues. For instance, performance marketing as a sector has been built on the claim of a risk-free, payment by results model which means brands can spray their advertising anywhere. No performance marketer wants to admit to the potential risk of an adverse reaction to poor contextual placement, nor any ongoing brand damage that poor placement might result in. Equally, needing humans to verify the wisdom of distributing adverts where an algorithm has automatically placed them destroys these business models. This is not just a performance marketing problem, it’s present throughout the marketing funnel, and brands need to become more aware of the risks and potential missed opportunities stemming from it.

As Kia realised, the modern media industry leaves brands open to the risk of sale and brand damage by having a message aired in the wrong place even when brands believe themselves to be in direct control of their messaging.

The new world of emerging media offers a solution to this problem

The next generation of media holds keys which can unlock this issue. Emerging media (podcasts, influencers, gaming advertising, esports and contextual streaming) allow for flexibility and integration of message which creates high relevancy. This is because media owners are themselves incentivised to keep content relevant to maintain their audiences. It is also because they can provide brands complete transparency into what they are buying.

The standards that this sector are being held to are generally higher. There is an array of new metrics that are expected as standard by marketers, agencies and media owners alike which require transparency from the outset. These include concurrent viewership, viewership that are followers vs. general viewership, completion percentage of an episode, interactions from CTAs etc. These provide the tools for brands to reliably use contextual transparency to their advantage at scale. It also provides multiple ways of differentiating themselves whilst being authentic in the eyes of the audience.

This results in more views, more recall, more conversations, and consequently more sales. If these standards are not adopted across the industry then less transparent media owners will be left behind as brands shift budgets across.