Scrutiny of the big tech beasts is long overdue
A view from Maisie McCabe

Scrutiny of the big tech beasts is long overdue

Facebook's campaign data controversy makes the failure to hold the digital powerhouses to the same standards as other media all the more inexplicable.

The Association of National Advertisers has been at it again. Not content with leading the charge on rebates – even if the end result disappointed some – the ANA positioned its cross-eye on Facebook last week. Following the social network’s embarrassing admission that it had overestimated the length of time its videos were viewed by up to 80%, the US advertisers’ trade body called for Facebook to have its campaign data independently accredited.

Obviously, this was just one metric and Facebook has at least come out and admitted it had a problem. But the fact that Facebook – like Google – refuses to share its data with the brands that fund it is a travesty. Advertisers and their agencies have always held out for accredited data before committing spend – meaning smaller TV channels and magazines struggle to get a piece of big campaigns. Why aren’t Google and Facebook held to the same standards?

We know the answer, of course. They’re seen as too powerful, too big to question. But it’s crazy that an industry that has built up systems and rigour over decades is tossing that aside so readily in return for a weekend at The Grove or a trip to Menlo Park. Our joint industry committees aren’t perfect. Yes, Rajar still uses diaries and the Barb sample size does seem small, but at least it’s open and transparent and fair. 

At the same time as they’re buying views online blind, advertisers are abandoning a medium that has been proven to be effective. Tesco has cut its print adspend by 85% this year despite studies showing that the channel can almost triple the effectiveness of retail campaigns. It seems every week there’s more evidence of the dire situation the newspaper industry is in. Over the past seven days, we’ve learnt that the Barclay brothers have written down the value of the Telegraph newspapers by £150m and the owner of the Daily Mail is looking to cut 400 jobs

The Guardian’s chief revenue officer Hamish Nicklin spoke to me this week about his plans to combat this situation. The key part of his strategy is to prove that advertising with The Guardian prompts readers to do things and drives quantifiable results for brands. The Guardian needs brands to value the premium environment their ads are appearing in, but advertisers and agencies are rightly demanding evidence before committing to paying a premium. 

In the case of Google and Facebook, brands aren’t even getting independent assurance about the basic metrics of their campaigns, never mind whether they work. Advertisers are all too willing to wield their power over smaller media owners. It’s about time they were prepared to do the same to the big beasts. 

If anyone has an explanation of why the tech giants should not be held to the same standards as everyone else, I’d love to hear it. Really, honestly, I’d like to know if there is a reason I’m missing. Because it seems to me that, given their increasing power, complex tax arrangements, impact on other media and stockpiles of cash, we should be asking more of them, not settling for less.