News UK: Marketers need to hold Facebook and Google to account

Publishers must do more to prove their worth to advertisers and show they are worthy of the “digital pound”, says News UK’s CMO for The Times and Sunday Times.

News UK

Marketers need to be warier and demand more openness when it comes to digital metrics, says News UK’s chief marketing officer for The Times and Sunday Times Catherine Newman.

Ad fraud and ad viewability are dominating the headlines this year, with Procter & Gamble’s chief brand officer Marc Pritchard recently urging the industry to clean up the “murky” media supply system. Digital giant Facebook has also landed in hot water after admitting it overestimated its digital metrics.

When asked whether brands such as Facebook and Google are doing enough to battle these issues, Newman says that “everyone can do better”, but that more marketers should hold Facebook and Google to account.

“As brands we can very often get into a situation where they’re such big players, we have to play with them and by their rules, and actually that can be dangerous. But I can understand how it happens,” she tells Marketing Week.

Facebook recently published its 5,700-word manifesto, in which it sets out its aim to build a “global community” via the social platform. Newman labels it “interesting, to be polite about it”. Nevertheless, she urges other brands to not get fixated on the big digital players and in turn “forget about everything else”.

“I probably meet more people who are uncomfortable with Facebook and are not using it, rather than saying it’s a worthwhile part of their day,” she explains.

“As media owners we need to be confident as to what our USP is and why we are different and worthy of the digital pound. I do appreciate that if you have X amount of the world’s reach on your platform, that it’s a compelling proposition. If you’re going for maximum reach and viewability, great, but I’d always bring it back to its content and what it delivers.”

‘Mass reach is an obsession’

The Times recently published an exposé revealing that brands could be inadvertently funding terrorism through programmatic advertising. Hundreds of companies, including Mercedes-Benz, Waitrose and Marie Curie, are showing up on websites and YouTube videos promoting extremist ideologies.

It’s not useful to flood the market when it may be cheap but not effective. People have to question what metric they’re chasing and hold it up to the same standards.

Catherine Newman, News UK

In light of the scandal, Newman says brands need to be more cautious and focus on consideration instead of reach and awareness.

She says: “Mass reach is an obsession with people when it comes to digital and the internet. If you could reach a million people but don’t know who they are, or 10,000 who have interacted with my brands and are likeminded, I know what I would go for. It’s not useful to flood the market when it may be cheap but not effective. People have to question what metric they’re chasing and hold it up to the same standards [as other mediums].”

Fighting fake news

Since Donald Trump took over the White House, “fake news” and “alternative facts” have been a topic of hot discussion within the news industry and on social media. Newman believes her brands continually have to earn their right to be there, and that she does not “take that for granted at all”.

“The worrying thing about fake news is that there’s a proportion of the country that don’t care it’s fake. For The Times, there’s no business in that,” she says.

“While fake news and the current political landscape has been a huge opportunity for us, it’s also one where we need to be clearly talking about our heritage, credibility and challenge ourselves if we’ve reported something wrong. It’s an interesting period for us.”

This message of quality and credibility will also increasingly come through in the brands’ marketing campaigns. Newman says that the current political and economic uncertainty has led to a “flight to quality”, leading to the increased popularity of broadsheet titles.

Recent ABC figures back this up. They show that The Observer and The Times were the only UK national newspapers to grow their paid-for print sales year on year in January. Paid-for sales of The Times rose 3.8% year on year to 379,861, with the upmarket ‘broadsheet’ end of the newspaper market out-performing the faster declining tabloids.

She concludes: “Absolutely people are wanting to stay better informed, because they’re worried. We will concentrate on what we’re good at – content that is world class and put it at the heart of everything we do.”