Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

The NDA Cannes Roundtable: Can advertisers save the open web?

How should advertisers split their budgets between the open web and the major ‘walled gardens’? Do advertisers have a moral responsibility to help safeguard the future strength and diversity of the open web? 

These were among the questions posed to a collection of industry experts by New Digital Age (in association with Outbrain) recently in Cannes. NDA’s Justin Pearse chaired the discussion and was joined by guests including: Kai Henniges, CEO & Co- Founder at Video Intelligence AG (now part of Outbrain); Kasia Sroga, Head of Global Video Demand, Outbrain; Freddie Turner, Managing Director, UK MiQ; Deborah Harper, Partner, Mindshare; Benoit Cacheux, Global Chief Digital Officer, Zenith; Shula Sinclair, CSO EMEA & WW,  m/SIX & Partners; and Amir S Jan Malik, Digital Marketing Expert, Accenture.  

Freddie Turner of MiQ opened the discussion by considering the pros and cons of the major walled gardens, such as YouTube, Meta and Amazon. She said: Walled gardens are seen as safe spaces to advertise, but just like with everything else, there are pros and cons. There are significant advantages to working with a variety of tech vendors, data providers, and inventory sources – none of which is possible if budgets are limited to tech giants.

When you look at how channels like connected TV, digital audio, and digital out-of-home are evolving, it’s easy to see that marketers have massive opportunities to create some incredible advertising campaigns, which is why many of us got into the business in the first place. Depending on what you’re trying to achieve, I think we, as marketers, have to look beyond the walled gardens.”

However, unfortunately for brand marketers, advertising on the open web carries inherent danger too, according to Benoit Cacheux of  Zenith. “With so much happening in the world, it can be easy for clients’ ads to turn up against the wrong context. I think that has had a negative impact on more ad budgets being assigned to the open web. Before the pandemic, things were moving in the right direction, but recently we’ve gone back to most advertisers wanting to be very, very safe. That, in turn, is having an impact on smaller sites and good web journalism.” 

Do the right thing?

Deborah Harper of  Mindshare firmly believes that brand advertisers have a responsibility to support quality journalism: “We’ve all been so focused on reach and scale that we’ve been ploughing money into walled gardens where fake news proliferates. 

We need to put the money back into trusted journalism and support more diverse media with a greater range of voices in the process. We need systemic change, behavioural change, and more accountability in how we assign our budgets.” 

Shula Sinclair of  m/SIX & Partners agreed that brands, along with their media agencies, have a role to invest responsibly:  “Beyond just finding as many people as possible in an uncompromised way, pressure is now on brands and consumers to be more discerning in their choices. I think we can all agree that society is becoming increasingly fragmented. Brands need to be sure that they aren’t feeding the problem.”

Making it easy  

However, Amir S Jan Malik of Accenture took a different angle on the questions of assigning ad budgets to the open web. He said: “I’m not sure that it needs to be brand advertisers that solves all these issues and guarantees the survival of the open web. One way the ad industry could help  is by cleaning up the disaggregation that exists, making it easier to buy ad space across quality websites, with an easy entry point that doesn’t involve 50 billion little weird ad tech companies competing for the same formats. For me, that’s the best way to encourage more spending on the open web.”

Kai Henniges of Video Intelligence AG argued that while it makes sense for advertisers to be visible on the open web, there was no ‘moral’ responsibility for them to do so: “Brands don’t have an obligation to spend on the open web.  They should do it because that’s where the majority of their audience are. Our job is to make it just as viable, if not more viable, to hit your KPIs on the open web.”

Read the first part of this roundtable recap here, featuring more expert contributions from Aurelia Noel, Head Of Innovation and Transformation, dentsu X; Matt Simpson, EVP Chief Digital Operations Officer at Omnicom Media Group; James Florence, Head of Advertising Technology, Immediate Co; Jessica Jacobs, Global Director of Partnerships at Incubeta; Rhys Williams, Tech and Activation Lead, 7 Stars; Matt Pollington  Director, Customer & Marketing at; and Justin Reid  Director of Media, Destinations, Hotels and Growth at Tripadvisor.