Who Benefits When Social Gets Too Toxic? Smaller, Targeted Media Brands

Dec 12, 2022

By Tony Silber

When the big media-buying conglomerates issued their ad-spending forecasts for 2023 early this month, the news seemed decidedly guarded. The economic outlook for the overall economy is clouded, the forecasters said, and because of that and other reasons, the rate of growth in ad spending was being dialed back.

The last three or four years has been a time of plenty in the advertising world, particularly in digital spend, as marketers enjoyed robust growth, even through the pandemic. Ad-spending growth was projected to remain strong through the middle of the decade, with—not surprising—the bulk of spending going to just three giants: Google, Meta, and Amazon.

Indeed, those companies control close to 70% of digital ad spending and about 40% of total global advertising. But now, economic turbulence is causing buyers to hedge their bets. And interestingly, that may be good news for “traditional” media—network TV, newspapers, radio, and magazine brands, even in print.

My former colleague, Joe Mandese, wrote in MediaPost this month about the subtext in the forecasting firms’ prognostications.

An analyst from IPG Mediabrands’ Magna noted that the concentration of the ad market paused for the first time in 2022. “If there is a positive story in the ad-spending downgrades, it’s that ad budgets are becoming far less concentrated among the big digital platforms, and the biggest beneficiaries are smaller digital publishers and traditional media,” Joe wrote. “After years of concentrating among Google, Meta, etc.—the advertising marketplace appears to be diversifying once again.”

This isn’t an extremely new trend, really. I wrote about it for MediaPost back in May after a study by Harvard Business Review indicated signs of a shift. The digital ad market, programmatic especially, is just too fraught. There’s fraud, there’s inefficiency, there’s an endemic lack of transparency.

So it’s not completely surprising that marketers are willing to forego the scale of the giant social and search platforms and instead invest in trusted brands with smaller, but committed audiences.

In the industry jargon, it’s called “brand safety” or a “flight to safety,” where marketers opt to avoid toxic venues like Twitter or Facebook in favor of the hundreds of well-known, established media brands with targeted reach.