When I hear that advertising is being “democratized” by Facebook and Google, I cringe. Marketing and advertising thought leaders talk about it incessantly – Examples of this are here, here, and here.
However, what seems to be a “democracy” of advertising, is in realty a monopolization of advertising, and paired along with it, possibly, the destruction of actual democracy.
Social media has been around for a while now, and a lot of industries, companies and even countries – have felt the power of social, both negative and positive.
From the revolutions in Egypt to the collapse of the newspaper industry, social media has been purported to be a tool of “democratization,” where the will and voice of the people are being heard. People are now in charge!
The local mom and pop shop can take control of their advertising on Instagram, do their own Google AdWords, and finally have access to their customers through the genius of Facebook. These new found abilities are what is being referred to as the “democratization” of advertising.
Last year, digital advertising raked in around $72 billion – 89% of that revenue went into just TWO companies – Google and Facebook.
So what was originally seen as a boon to the local advertiser, a means to connect them with their valuable customer, should really be seen as the continued support of just TWO companies. And these two companies have a goal to dominate every transaction on the Internet. So is this democracy in action?
What does the well-meaning marketer have to say to the recent reports that Facebook collected well over $100k in ad revenue from a Russian troll farm, which spewed out profile-targeted disinformation during the 2016 US Presidential Election? They denied this for months – and now, it turns out that they did profit off the propaganda. Not only that, Facebook also assisted the Russian efforts with their always expanding suite of top-shelf marketing technology.
Facebook provides advertising access to any user that creates an advert account. Doesn’t matter who you are, or what your intentions are, as long as the Credit Card runs. They’ve also collected a MASSIVE amount of user generated data, that can be parsed to identify psychographic profiles, which can be used in turn by advertisers, or other nefarious parties, to slowly adjust behaviors and even influence voting outcomes.
This “opinion manipulation” technology was harnessed to subvert campaign finance laws by Cambridge Analytica in such recent hits as Brexit, Trump in US, Marie Le Pen in France, and recently overturned elections in Kenya.
With evidence popping up that shows FB promises an advertising reach to many times more people on the planet than Census data shows exists, are the marketing gurus right to call this the “democratization” effect?
Tools like Google and Twitter actually increase our political divisions, because these sites run on hidden algorithms that select what should be shown to who, and when, and why. And no one knows how the algorithms work. Doesn’t sound democratic.
And lastly – Technology is Not A Great Equalizer!!
Access to all of the tools associated with the “democratization of advertising” are still dependent on economic and technological advantages that are unattainable by a large portion of the Earth’s population. The person/company with the most money, the fastest connectivity to broadband, and the most talented manipulation of big data sets (the lifeblood of social) will win the advertising game on social, every time. For people with no access to the internet, and a throttled utility-based market economy around telecom industry, the big money that lives on FB and Google is out of reach completely for a vast majority of us. This, to me, is the final nail in the coffin for the myth of democratized advertising.
Marketers need to really start engaging on a tactile level with this issue, start discussing the ramifications of these metastasizing monopolies, and stop throwing around the word democracy. The expanding economic in-equality and rise of nationalism and political subterfuge across the world is directly tied to our love of these behemoth companies, and our blind belief that their inherent structures are supported by good causes and people. We need to open our eyes.
To blithely think that the “people” are in charge, as we pad the walled gardens of FB and Google with our advertising money, is stupid. The long-term survivability of civilization is at hand, and while marketers hail the new revolution of people-powered advertising networks – the entire fabric of trust and democracy is being ripped apart, boiled and bleached, and turned into money for two giant companies.
Isn’t it a great time to be a marketer!?!