Walled Gardens: How Brands Can Reconcile Performance and Brand Safety

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At times, it’s hard to make a decision simply because there is not yet a vision of what the future could be. It’s what I imagine many brands are struggling with right now as they decide whether they should or shouldn’t abandon advertising ties with Facebook. Its reputation and image were severely compromised and as early as June, brands began pausing ad spend on Facebook, as reflected by the 31.6% decrease since then.

But maybe Facebook isn’t the problem; the real issue is one that the advertising industry has been encumbered by for some time. It is about brand safety and the lack of transparency. However, 2020 has certainly reminded us that the only constant changes, so let’s ponder on the possibilities.

What it Really Means to Be Transparent

True transparency requires a relationship between brands and advertisers where measurement and reporting are as clear as possible – something Facebook and the like lacks. How algorithms operate is a mystery and in the past few years, brands have seen reach decrease while the monetary investment to reach target audiences has increased. While such an advertising model is convenient for marketers as it provides broad collections of data and a centralized audience, it becomes less so with every passing year. This boycott is just the latest example of how Facebook continues to sever brand trust within its platform and is just a continuation of complaints brought about years ago.

As brands try to solidify their images, customize their content and disperse their messages among their audiences, there is a big imbalance between time in walled gardens and ad spend, according to industry executives. Brands should seriously consider both the value of the supply and their ability to control their first-party data, track measurement, and optimize performance and whether it’s worth the benefits of advertising within a walled garden.

If Not Facebook, Then Where?

With many brands taking a stand against Facebook in the past several weeks, the question has arisen, if not Facebook, or some other walled garden, then where can brands run their ads? And for many small and medium-sized enterprises, Facebook may feel like the end-all, be-all.

Brands need to take time to decide where they want to spend their media dollars. In doing so, they’ll find that there are other mediums well worth the consideration that fall outside of the big players.

Future of Digital Advertising

What will advertising look like should the models of walled gardens no longer reign supreme? It’s hard to tell, as the infrastructure that Google and Facebook built has become vital for many businesses across the globe. Thus, it is difficult to imagine a short-term alternative with the same amount of data and tech capabilities. But one would like to think space would allow for a more open ecosystem where transparency is enhanced by an approach inspired by the open web philosophy.

An exodus of advertisers from one of these larger platforms may give publishers and local media extra leverage, as they have relationships with numerous audiences and access to an abundance of first-party data. Perhaps other social platforms, once considered alternative options, will become the norm. Maybe ad spend would return to the open web.

There’s no way to know for certain and there’s certainly no right way. All the problems associated with advertising won’t disappear should brands cease advertising on Facebook. However, it is something to consider when thinking of the longevity of one’s brand and platform and its place within the advertising industry.


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