Should our ticketing sector follow consumer brands with marketing pressure for change, considers Ian Nuttall, Founder, TheTicketingBusiness.com.

Global consumer giant Unilever hit the headlines this week when it threatened to withdraw advertising from online platforms such as Facebook and Google if they fail to eradicate content which “create division in society and promote anger and hate”.

Keith Weed, chief marketing officer of Unilever, whose brands include Dove, Magnum, Persil and Marmite, was quoted in The Guardian as saying that online platforms were sometimes “little better than a swamp”.

At a conference address to media and tech firms in California, Weed gave his reasoning behind the threat: “As one of the largest advertisers in the world, we cannot have an environment where our consumers don’t trust what they see online.”
He added: “We cannot continue to prop up a digital supply chain – one that delivers over a quarter of our advertising to our consumers – which at times is little better than a swamp in terms of its transparency. It is in the digital media industry’s interest to listen and act on this. Before viewers stop viewing, advertisers stop advertising and publishers stop publishing.”

Online platforms

In the ticketing sector, Google was slow to respond to criticism of its advertising offers, which often placed secondary and unauthorised resellers above the official ticketing providers. Subsequently it has upgraded its approaches to resale transparency but groups such as FanFair Alliance say that it needs to go further.

Facebook has not outlined a corporate strategy to sports and entertainment ticketing but it has increasingly inked various alliances with ticketing platforms and rightsholders in recent months. These have included integrations with AXS and Eventbrite. For its part Ticketmaster has been embracing Google-owned YouTube as a sales channel.

Yoav Zeevi, Facebook Events Ticketing’s product manager, was quoted last year as saying: “Our focus with ticketing on Facebook is to give people an easier way to attend the events that interest them and make selling tickets easier for our partners, like Eventbrite.

“We’ve gotten great feedback from our partners that posting on Facebook helps them drive sales and attendance.”

However, Unilever’s threat will surely resonate with the social network giants. According to industry analysts, Unilever is the world’s second biggest marketing spender, after Procter & Gamble, and spent €7.7bn (£6.8bn) last year advertising its brands, which also include PG Tips, Vaseline and Bertolli.

“Unilever’s ultimatum comes as tech and social media firms are facing mounting criticism for failing to protect children and to erase fake news, hate speech and extremism”, writes The Guardian’s Julia Kollewe.

Last year Procter & Gamble, the owner of brands including Pantene and Pampers, issued a similar warning before cutting US$100m (£72m) of digital ad spend without – it reported – any negative impact on sales.

Looking for responsible channels

Given that ticketing is the gateway to entertainment and leisure experiences – especially those for children and families who may be more vulnerable to exposure of the Internet excesses and extremes – should the ticketing sector take a similar stand?

Weed said: “Fake news, racism, sexism, terrorists spreading messages of hate, toxic content directed at children – parts of the internet we have ended up with is a million miles from where we thought it would take us.”

When combined Google and Facebook are estimated to account for nearly three-quarters of all digital advertising in the US. In the UK the two have more than 60% of digital advertising and 90% of all new digital spending.

Google said in December it would hire thousands of new moderators after coming under fire for allowing child abuse videos and other offensive content to flourish on YouTube.

Weed said the Anglo-Dutch business would no longer “invest in platforms or environments that do not protect our children or which create division in society, and promote anger or hate.”

Unilever’s CMO added: “We will prioritise investing only in responsible platforms that are committed to creating a positive impact in society.”

Quantity vs Quality Control

Ian Whittaker and Annick Maas, analysts at Liberum, said online advertising platforms such as Facebook and YouTube faced “increasing difficulties in persuading advertisers that their product offers a brand safe environment”.

“Moreover, given the number of videos uploaded, there will always be an element of videos slipping through the net, which is likely to fuel further negative publicity. We therefore do not see this problem going away for the online platforms.”

They added: “It is clear advertisers are becoming increasingly wary of online’s quality and so are unlikely to shift money aggressively from TV to online as these concerns mount.”

The Liberum analysts said advertisers’ growing unease about tech companies’ lack of content control could provide an opportunity for broadcasters to take a bigger slice of the online video advertising market.

Back to Traditional Media
Will our ticketing sector follow suit? It’s unlikely to be a coordinated action given the global fragmentation in the ticketing eco-system. But we will see rightsholders increasingly question where their adverts are placed and alongside which content is being viewed. Sensitivity around brands and brand values will be balanced against audience reach, exposure and sales conversions.

And it may be that the traditional media channels – of TV, radio and print – pick up revenues at the loss of online channels. This shift in spend will be more pervasive the longer the digital giants fail to clean up the foulest parts of the swamps which they have created.