For a brand, the context in which its ad is placed is a make or break factor. So, when The Guardian, Etihad Airways, Marriott and Verizon, realised that their ads on YouTube were placed next to videos containing extremist content and hate speeches, they pulled out of the medium. Lack of transparency has long been a matter of concern on social media platforms.
In the past, some of these platforms had launched options that allowed users to 'stop seeing an ad', and asked them to state their reason for doing so. The bigger social media players are now going a step further and introducing transparency measures. Twitter recently launched an Advertising Transparency Center for its US audience. This will enable users to know specific details about any ad they see on Twitter, including how long the ad has been running, the specific audience it is targeted at and, more importantly, the organisation running the ad. This will be especially beneficial for non-product ads such as those about betting, gambling and political ads, wherein the advertiser's name is inconspicuous. Facebook's new ad transparency feature will allow a user to see the list of all ads run by a particular advertiser, by clicking on the 'View Ad' icon on the advert. This feature is currently being tested in Canada. Additional information like the money spent on ads, the number of impressions and the demographics of the target audience can also be viewed.
With such explicit details being available to users, marketers are jittery. Social media experts believe that while transparency is good for the entire industry, advertisers may be sceptical initially. R.P. Singh, Regional Head of Media at advertising and marketing agency VML, says that in the short run, such initiatives will not help brands as much as it will give consumers more control on the kind of ads they want to see. On the other hand, social media platforms as well as advertisers will have a better understanding of user preferences. This means digital marketing agencies, too, will have to keep a close watch on the feedback generated and fine-tune the communication.
Instagram has rolled out a feature that makes distinguishing sponsored and paid posts easier. It makes it clear when a celebrity or influencer a user follows has been paid to promote content on his/ her page. Brands have been increasingly resorting to influencer-driven marketing, and this move could throw a spanner in the works. "Any influencer/ native engagement should ideally be under the purview of the new policies, but being a more subtle form of endorsement, identification of these would be challenging for platforms," says Rubeena Singh, CEO, iProspect India.
While it may seem that users stand to benefit most from these transparency measures, the insights generated in the process will prove to be of great value to advertisers, too.