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Tracy De Groose: We've forgotten the ad value exchange, it is time to reconnect with content

There's been a lot written about trust in our industry, but up until recently not enough action. Trust in advertising has eroded in the UK to an all-time low, from 50% to 25% according to the Advertising Association (AA).

In the US, Marc Pritchard talked at the ANA Media Conference how seven out of 10 consumers find ads annoying, and how ad blocking is accelerating at pace. The work to resolve this crisis has started in the UK. Last week in New York, Keith Weed shared how the AA’s report is bringing our industry together with work streams to tackle issues like bombardment and excessive frequency.  Progress though, if we’re honest, is slow. 

The single biggest challenge is tackling the value exchange. There's been an explosion of space where brands can serve more ads, more frequently than ever before, whether you want to see them or not. We have forgotten about the end-user.

The bombardment of advertising online has severely impacted the value exchange between brands and consumers and there is no obvious benefit that justifies them accepting this bombardment.  

There is also an explosion in the number of standalone businesses who use data to make money out of advertising but offer little in return. The impact is an ecosystem that is murky, driven by monetisation of audience numbers using questionable data, which they probably shouldn’t, and annoying the heck out of us along the way - although those days may be coming to an end

The value exchange used to be easy. Ads helped to fund the content we wanted. Content was the value people got in return. Digital media has in parts disconnected from content and this has clearly undermined the value exchange.

Connecting back to content could represent a big part of the fix. There is increasing evidence that this is happening already, as consumer demand shifts towards content online. Both content creators and platforms realise this. Over the last few months both have been increasing investment in content-led futures, but in very different ways. Publishers looking to build platform propositions, like Ozone, to make it easier for advertisers to access premium content directly or the platforms building marketing partnerships with the content creators. 

Reconnecting media with content has several advantages. It allows us to be much clearer on the role and value of advertising. It will help us to build better, more transparent monetisation models and will allow us to invest in better quality content online. It could also offer the answer to targeting in a “cookie-less” world. Content drives engagement and engagement drives effectiveness and could help turn around the long-term decline in advertising ROI. It could also ensure we safeguard first-party data, and create a more trusted internet for all. 

Being content-led online will help us build a more compelling case for advertising. The choice is simple. Pay for content directly through some form of membership or subscription model or accept an ad-funded proposition instead. That choice is clear and one Spotify has been succeeding in for some time. Quality publishers investing in online propositions are also making progress. The Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph, the FT and The Economist are all building successful subscription models, with 7% of UK adults (according to Reuters) paying for their news content online. And the willingness to pay continues to grow.  

In the news industry, demand for online news is at a record high with 19 million people reading digital journalism every day. That's up by 2 million a day compared to just one year ago. This growth in demand for online content is attracting a number of start-ups in the news publishing, space with the likes of The Athletic and The Byline Times. Increasingly, publishers are thinking about readers as customers and developing customer strategies to deliver better multi-platform storytelling. 

A “reader-first” mindset, as a recent Enders report highlighted, is what is required to futureproof the news industry. Those adopting it are starting to see the benefits of the approach. Content is where the real people are (and with it the first-party data) yet advertisers have been buying audiences where they are not even sure if they are buying wholly human ones. For this reason, content and the context of that content, is re-emerging as the frontrunner for targeting people in an ecosystem that has been dominated by cookies and therefore unidentifiable audiences. Cookie-based targeting has a shelf life with ICO investigations, GDPR and more stringent data privacy regulation on its way. More are starting to recognise this and are talking about what will take its place. 

In this next chapter of the internet, newsbrands are returning to a genuine position of strength. Advertisers, quite rightly, want to be where genuine audiences congregate and crowd around their passion points – whether that be film, radio, music, news, sport, politics or entertainment. Outside of the platforms, newsbrands own the largest audience data set. 

The digital world is shifting on its axis, as we ask ourselves what matters. There is a huge gravitational pull taking place as we see content creators moving back to their rightful place at the centre of our world. This change will be a profound one and we might finally see an environment we want, rather than one that’s been designed around us. And then, as we help create the internet’s next chapter, with digital content at the fore, we can return trust, respect and value back into advertising.

 Tracy De Groose, executive chair Newsworks, reminds The Drum readers of a time when advertising paid for content - digital media has undermined the value exchange but all is not lost...

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