The Battle for Advertising Gold

The Meta vs. Mass Media battle, or Bill C-18 as referred to by the Canadian Federal Government, has shown its ugly face. Before the law goes into force in December 2023, both sides have already staked out their positions. The Feds have decided that Meta is the bad guy. On the Meta side, links to news channels went off the air for us in Canada on Facebook and Instagram, in August, forcing us to seek out websites and/or streaming directly from those news providers. Gone was the popularity-based curating done by our Facebook and Instagram friends when they would share news items with their cohort. Now we have to go hunting for the juicy stuff ourselves.

Neither the flak received for concealing important safety alerts from affected citizens during the summer forest fire season, nor the carrot offered by the Canadian government of placing caps on how much Meta would pay for featuring news organizations’ links, could induce Zukerberg and Co. back to the negotiating table. Even though Canada is small potatoes in the grand scheme, I guess Meta is worried that this is the tip of the iceberg; the mighty US market lies below us, making the same rumblings about unfairness in Meta’s practices and vowing to do the same thing its Canadian counterpart has done. And if Canada and the USA go whole hog, like Europe and Australia have already done, the rest of the world will soon follow. So, Meta pushes back, and we all watch to see how this will play out.

I see some positives here. For once, Canadian media organizations will be able to showcase their own web portals containing only their content instead of hiding behind Meta and its algorithms that play favourites based on their master’s revenue priorities. Local newsies could build paywalls and mailing lists, and make some direct money instead of relying on scraps, i.e., what I call “tributary money” that trickles through cracks in the main river of advertising gold flowing directly to Meta. The open question is, will a social media consumer still prefer single-sourcing of content rather than bookmarking a plethora of specialty channels? Do you prefer to buy your meat at a supermarket or at the butcher? Yet bookmarking (and paying) for one’s preferred news channels is a more active and targeted way to consume news in a world filled with the fake stuff. 

Another positive will be the push for users to post original content in order to become noticed, let alone famous – i.e., content created by them, that sets off their personal brand, reveals more of their character and philosophy, instead of resorting to the lazy “copy and share” of news media articles. The lazy method only multiplies existing flotsam in the channel and obscures one’s brand if those borrowed posts are not prefaced with one’s own commentary.

   The downsides of these positives cannot be ignored either. Building one’s audience takes time, consumers who are used to getting their news for free may refuse to pay, advertisers may decamp due to smaller audience sizes in single channels, and minor players in news media may have to make additional investments to get their content pushed out to consumers via multiple online channels in addition to their currently passive websites.

As for users – not everyone is creative. The herd hides behind that which is already created. That’s why branded fashions are big business, because consumers drape themselves in brands to reflect and express their non-existent personalities. And big brands shape and subdue individual personalities into conformance and obeisance to the corporate logo– just ask PGA golfers who come on camera plastered with swooshes, deltas, and trefoils, and get their endorsement deals cancelled for inappropriate behaviour that “hurts the brand.” And don’t ever try selling a Blue Jays cap to a Baltimore Orioles fan to test for loyalty.

Don’t expect AI tools like ChatGPT to come to the rescue in the creativity department either, because, very soon, AI-generated posts will take on the eerie similarity of political correctness, social delicacy, and boring predictability. Users will eventually abandon those AI-heavy platforms in droves to go seeking their lost nirvana (if one can ever be found again) of platforms where ribald humour, political irreverence, cynical sarcasm, and human connection—the lifeblood of social media—continue to exist.

Of course, while we debate and restructure and practice creativity to face the new reality, Meta and the Government might just kiss and make up and come down from their hostile pedestals (admitting that the standoff was just a negotiating tactic to soften the other party). Money will predictably change hands – i.e., Meta will throw some extra scraps to the Mass Media guys while retaining the lion’s share, which the latter will gratefully accept and hire back some turfed journalists. And life will go back to the way it used to be. The Canadian Government will preen before the electorate, claiming “See, we tamed Big Tech, just like we tamed Putin and Xi and Modi. We’ve got the biggest balls in the G20 – now vote for us again!”

Don’t you love a scripted reality show!

More To Explore

Discover more from Shane Joseph

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading