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Digital media fact-checking to weed out tall tales

We need a clean, transparent online ecosystem that marketers, agencies, influencers, and consumers trust

Gulf News

If you have a newspaper in your hands, how long have you been holding it? Now, ask yourself, how long have you used your phone to read the news? And when was the last time you watched terrestrial television?

We all know the world of advertising is changing, including both the mediums through which we consume data as well as our usage habits. Digital has become a dominant force in the industry; last year, digital media surpassed TV as the No 1 advertising channel, pulling in $200 billion (Dh734.6 billion).

The mediums have changed, but the push for transparency is still ongoing. The allure of new technologies has often distracted marketers, moving us away from asking the basic questions which are fundamental to our purpose. Instead of making effective use of technology through pushing for clarity on both the data we have access to as well as adopting measurement standards, we’ve found ourselves dealing with a plethora of systems and processes that have confused rather than simplified our profession.

The issue of data is particularly pressing on social media. For far too long we’ve struggled to understand what is real and what is fake, if our followers are people or if they’re bots, and whether the influencers we are working with have built up their follower base organically or have bought them.

We’re now seeing brands take action on a global level to tackle issues such as transparency and measurement. A number of marketing leaders made announcements at the recent Cannes, promising that they’d seek to take action to tackle the likes of online fraud immediately.

I wholeheartedly understand the reasoning behind this urgency. We need a clean, transparent online ecosystem that we all — marketers, agencies, influencers, and consumers — trust. As marketers for both local and global brands, we need to trust the data we’re given, we must be confident that the influencers we are working with are the real deal, we should know that our ads will not show up next to content which is inappropriate, and we need to take a responsible approach to building our own brands online.

What is most important to me and others in the industry is that our consumers trust our advertising and the influencers we work with. The practice of influencer marketing has become an established part of the advertising industry; at their best, influencers have strong, authentic connections with their audiences which are important to brands.

The initial findings from the most recent ABG research would suggest that consumers in the Gulf are still engaging with influencers and branded content. However, the story globally is shifting. Increasingly, consumers are asking questions of sponsored content pushed both by brands and influencers. Consumers want to know when a post is paid for.

They want to feel that what they’re seeing online is honest, is accurate and is not misleading.

I welcome the focus that governments are now giving to this issue; it’s clear that they want to promote an online ecosystem that everyone trusts. However, the onus is on us as marketers is to collectively take action that transforms media transparency and that raises the bar on media content quality.

As brand owners, we need to ensure that our work and approach to advertising builds trust with consumers. We must be real and transparent with our audiences. Trust has to be at the heart of the industry if we are to remain relevant.

Alex Malouf is a member of the Advertisers Business Group.

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