Advertisers haven’t been afraid to pull money out of Facebook or YouTube campaigns, following the exposures of controversial content hosted on the platforms, but they always seem to come crawling back.
They’re caught in a Catch-22. Tech companies may get caught hosting content like terrorist videos or targeted comments from pedophiles, but their massive audiences make their platforms next to impossible for advertisers to quit in the end.
But at least one major advertising group, representing close to a trillion dollars worth of buying power a year, has started to formulate plans to get tech companies to clean up their mess.
The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), whose members include PepsiCo, P&G and Diageo, called on its members to put pressure on platforms to do more to prevent their services and technology from being “hijacked by those with malicious intent” in brands’ capacity as “the funders of the online advertising system.”
Raja Rajamannar, Mastercard’s CMO, took the role of president of the WFA in late March. Since the internet companies receive so much revenue from advertising, “They cannot completely ignore the rightful preferences of the advertisers,” he said in an interview with CNBC this week.
And he said it’s about a broader issue than just providing a “safe” place for brands. For something like the New Zealand shooting that was live-streamed on Facebook and passed around on YouTube and Twitter, “it is not a brand safety issue. It’s a societal safety issue, and as marketers we have a responsibility to society.”
The WFA in late March urged its members to “think carefully about where they place advertising” and consider a moral responsibility bigger than the effectiveness than social media platforms for brands. The call came after reports of comments from pedophile groups on YouTube videos, content regarding self-harm and suicide on Instagram and the live-streaming of a mosque shooting in New Zealand on Facebook.
But despite the problems, walking away isn’t as obvious as it might seem to be, Rajamannar said.
“There are these big social media giants who have got a humongous reach, they’ve got a humongous ability to precisely target the right kind of an audience, which you cannot ignore,” he said. “You cannot walk away from that scale just like that.”
The potential trade-offs to that scale have been more evident for marketers in recent months.
“Do you want live streaming of a shooting happening? You definitely don’t want that,” he said. “There is some tangible action that is happening. Is it adequate? No. And should it be expedited? Yes.”
He said the request for platforms in the near-term is a clear plan.
“We are saying, ‘Show us the game plan.’ We want to see the game plan clearly,” he said.
Rajamannar said one common answer from platforms to how they’re fixing content issues is that the companies are adding more people. Facebook and YouTube have hired thousands of individuals in recent years to monitor content on their respective platforms.
“That’s not exactly a plan. So we are saying, is it a technology-based solution … Is it people-based? Is it a hybrid? We are asking them to think through their strategy and come and share with us,” he said.