Advertisers face social media backlash

30 September 2014

NEW YORK: Even as Facebook announced the launch of a new ad platform, Atlas, which it claims will deliver 'people-based marketing', a backlash appears to be under way with a new ad-free social network attracting 30,000 new user requests every hour.

A Facebook blog post said that marketers using Atlas would be able to "easily solve the cross-device problem through targeting, serving and measuring across devices", while at the same time connecting online campaigns to actual offline sales.

Omnicom, the agency holding company, has already signed up to an agency-wide ad-serving and measurement partnership and plans to jointly develop integrations to enable more automated capabilities for its clients, including Pepsi and Intel which are among the first testing the new platform.

Jonathan Nelson, CEO of Omnicom Digital, described the technology on offer as "marketing nirvana" in remarks reported by Adweek.

For people who are disinclined to be regarded as guinea pigs in the world of advertising and marketing, Ello, a recently established social networking site, offers an alternative vision.

"You are the product that's bought and sold," Ello advises in its manifesto, as it explains that "Your social network is owned by advertisers" but states Ello itself will remain ad-free.

But not running ads does not mean it is not collecting information from users, who can only join by invitation. The Wall Street Journal said that location, referring websites and time spent are stored to help understand how the site is used and can be made better. But IP addresses are stripped and anonymised in order to make it difficult for anyone to trace data back to any one user.

Even at its current rate of growth, it will be a long time before Ello poses a real threat to Facebook but, as the Harvard Business Review noted, the attention it is receiving is symptomatic of a growing disillusionment among consumers and indicates that businesses "need to rethink their core approach to social media itself". That in turn means "addressing the trust gap", which, it suggested, was about more than privacy or invasive ads.

"It reflects the frustration with the steady commercialisation of our online interactions and spaces," it said, arguing that companies needed to focus less on algorithms and ad targeting and more on the value they can offer to their customers' online lives, whether through co-creation or meaningful conversations.

Data sourced from Facebook, Ello, Adweek, Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review; additional content by Warc staff