Truly digital marketers will be defined by their ability to firefight, not coming up with soundbites

Google’s ascension to the throne of ‘the world’s biggest media owner’ means senior marketers will now have to be au fait with the minutiae of what can go wrong with digital. The ire brands faced over ad misplacement on Facebook this last week is proof of this new reality.

Ronan Shields

The last seven days or so have been a tale of contrasting fortunes for the Goliaths of Silicon Valley, with every turn in the path posing marketers with much food for thought.

Firstly, this week’s ZenithOptimedia Top Thirty Global Media Owners report shows Google is now the largest media owner in the world in terms of revenue, generating $38bn for the full financial year 2011 – the first time a pureplay digital company has topped the list.

Although the rankings are partly based on the media-buying agency’s estimates, we can take this as an accurate bellwether for the state of the market.

Rival ‘traditional’ media companies such as the DirectTV Group, News Corp and Walt Disney are distant second[s, demonstrating there has truly been a change in the guard.

However, as we can see from the ongoing European Commission antitrust investigation into Google’s dominance of the online ad market, the behemoth is fast in danger of becoming victim of its own success.

More importantly for brands this means the contemporary marketing chief will now have to concern themselves with issues that were formerly the domain of the handful of ‘digital specialists’ within the average FMCG or high street retailer, etc.

However, now the nitty-gritty issues of complications over paid search and display advertising, plus ad misplacement and content verification tools, will have to be thrashed out in the CMO’s office, or the boardroom, not just around a whiteboard in a communal workspace.

This last week has demonstrated more than any other how failure to address/monitor these problems can result in brands being thrust into the headlines – the likes of which they’d rather avoid. Brands including American Express, Nationwide and Nissan have all now become embroiled in the Facebook domestic violence controversy and are now looking for resolution.

This saga first hit the headlines a week ago when the Everyday Sexism Project plus Women, Action and the Media successfully brought to the public attention that ads from high-profile brands were being served against content advocating violence against women.

Doubtless, this stirred debate among the brands mentioned with Zipcar, American Express and Dove all issuing statements in the immediate aftermath of the uproar, claiming they were working with Facebook to resolve the issue.

Meanwhile, Nationwide and Nissan went one better and actually pulled their ads altogether, despite Facebook’s vehement defence of its own content policies.

Although, in the contravening period, Facebook has also caved into campaigners by introducing a five-point safety programme to counter hate speech on the site after admitting its safety systems had failed to work.

But for Nationwide, these assurances are clearly not enough and it has now openly questioned the social network’s commitment to defend brands against ad misplacement.

With such rows now playing themselves out in mainstream media outlets – when formerly they were the domain of specialist publications – the need for high-level guidance and digital expertise is clear.

Last week, when addressing the same domestic violence row, I raised how the controversy put the lack of standards for ad misplacement under the spotlight.

In particular, I raised the failure of the IPA, ISBA, and IAB to agree standards concerning online brand safety via the Digital Trading Standards Group (DTSG). And it appears we are still at a stalemate in that debate.

Without knowledge of matters such as this – which are heavily laden with the potential for disaster – senior marketers may as well just sit around the whiteboard and continue searching for the next ‘big idea’.

Meanwhile, truly effective marketers, with actual digital knowledge, will be able to constantly monitor such matters and roll the likes of Facebook over the coals about it, thus distinguishing themselves from competitors.

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