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Algorithms Gone Wild

You may have heard recently that the British unit of Volkswagen, Hyundai, McDonald’s and L’Oréal dropped some advertising from Youtube when algorithms served up their targeted advertising alongside controversial content, spurring a seething caldron of debate about censorship of user-generated content by Google, a role that they are reluctant to take. After all, advertisers should have been aware of how the platform and algorithms work, right?

We are finding out that, through the rich data and sophisticated algorithms at companies like Facebook and Google, we have in some manner achieved the marketer’s ultimate dream as far as being able to segment and target their brands to a highly specific audience but it’s coming at some cost. In the world of ever-changing, user-generated content, advertisers can have a far reach into markets, but sometimes with unintended consequences.

But can you have your cake and eat it too? With ad spending on digital channels surpassing that of traditional linear TV advertising for the first time this year according to eMarketer, companies are starting to take notice. The dilemma is asking Google (and Facebook too) to exert greater control over the user-generated content, which may contradict the fundamental nature of the channel, yet advertisers still want to make use of algorithms to reach their targets. Are we headed down a slippery slope? What about content that is just questionable, or just a little more nuanced?

Google, undoubtedly has no choice in the matter. They will have to find a way to improve their filters or figure out new algorithms that steer ads to a yet more refined audience, lest be threatened with loss of ad revenue. With more powerful artificial intelligence via robust neural networks and deep machine learning, we may find more solutions, as well as more problems, and so therein lies the beauty of the internet and all the ensuing technologies. In the meantime, it’s “buyer beware” for marketers that comes with a promise for more intelligence.

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