Following Facebook’s lead, Google has announced it will ban all cryptocurrency advertising on its platforms by June 2018. This restriction applies to all Google-owned platforms including YouTube and any websites where Google sells digital ad space. On Sunday, March 18, 2018, Sky Newsreported Twitter will ban a range of cryptocurrency advertising by April 2018, including advertising for initial coin offerings, cryptocurrency wallets and some cryptocurrency exchanges. Twitter has not publicly communicated the ban nor has it denied the report.
As Matthew Frankel with the Motley Foolsuggests, the main purpose of Google’s ban could be to protect investors without harming those already currently involved in the industry for the sake of positive development of the blockchain technology business ecosystem as a whole. Still, the reasoning and repercussions of this ban are worth investigating further.
While straightforward in delivery, the announcement itself has far-reaching implications for advertisers in the cryptocurrency space. The instance also leaves others with one more example to gauge Google’s position of power, responsibility and liability over online communication.
The news came as part of Google Adwords’ annual “trust and safety” report in the form of a new policy “to restrict the advertisement of Contracts of Difference, rolling spot forex and financial spread betting” — all speculative high-risk methods for generating greater amounts of profit in the short term with a low barrier of entry.
Because cryptocurrency has always been associated with financial volatility and has more recently become a hot-button topic in finance and technology in general, understanding why Google has banned these other financial products might indicate a more rational consideration for the ban.
Specifically, the update stated that advertisements for “cryptocurrencies and related content (including but not limited to initial coin offerings, cryptocurrency exchanges, wallets and cryptocurrency trading advice) will no longer be served.” While the statement goes on to say that certain Contracts of Difference, rolling spot forex and financial spread betting can be authorized to advertise through Adwords in certain countries based on Google’s certification, there is no mention of cryptocurrencies. Finally, “Advertisers can request certification with Google starting March 2018 when the application form is published.”
Bitcoin Magazinespoke with Rick Hanna, a digital strategist with BTC Inc, to better understand the situation. According to Hanna, setting the update (bans are not typical) ahead of time, for June 2018, is typical of Google Adwords updates and changes. “It gives their developers and end users time to implement and adjust for the changes. And a lot of cryptocurrency advertisers will be using Google and Facebook for the time being until it closes.”
For Hanna, based on past behavior, the most atypical thing about Facebook and Google’s announcements is the “blanket approach” which bans all cryptocurrency advertising:
“Blanket approach raises eyebrows because you recognize how much they act as gatekeepers. A blanket ban seems a bit heavy-handed to squash a few bad eggs.”
Hanna recognized that other social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Medium and Reddit will be used more often unless they follow suit.
Reasons and Repercussions
Tatiana Moroz is the founder of Crypto Media Hub, a consultancy specializing in advertising, PR, marketing and events for the cryptocurrency space since 2015, with clients like Vaultoro, Blockfinity and Zencash. While her company targets mainly publisher advertising, whether that be through website banner ads and original content or on events, rather than on Google or Facebook, Moroz helped to articulate big tech’s thinking for the ban as well as potential repercussions for companies who rely on various advertising platforms to get their message across.
“This is not intended to sound conspiratorial in any way, but I think that Facebook and Google are very large corporations embedded in the establishment system,” Moroz told Bitcoin Magazine. “They get a lot of benefit from that system. That has been proven with the way they censor their users and the way they exploit their users by incorrectly selling their information. When I look at their policy on cryptocurrency, I think that it’s a disruptive technology that could potentially eat their lunch.”
On the other hand, Moroz also admitted that these same corporations have valid concern with regard to liability: “The SEC regulation around cryptocurrency has been somewhat unclear in an ever-evolving landscape, so, by allowing cryptocurrency advertisements, they might be opening themselves up to legal liability without necessarily knowing it.”
Separating the Wheat From the Chaff
Even for media and marketing companies that specialize in cryptocurrency, filtering potential clients through a vetting process that weeds out scams or potential pump-and-dump projects can be a difficult process that must constantly be redefined. From this perspective, the prospect of laying down a blanket approach to banning all cryptocurrency advertisements may be the easiest way to save time, while eliminating liability and mitigating the responsibility of imposing an evaluation framework that could stunt the industry or appear in any way, shape or form as collusion.
However, the reality of the power which both Facebook and Google hold over the digital world means that even if they are attempting to mitigate their responsibility for something as new and unpredictable as cryptocurrency, banning cryptocurrency advertising is still a method by which they are able to choose the players who can (or cannot) grow their businesses through digital advertising. According to an eMarketerarticle from last year, together, Google and Facebook were expected to control 63.1 percent of U.S. digital ad investment by the end of 2017.
Art, Not Science
“As a marketing company, it’s very difficult to choose which projects to work on,” admitted Moroz. “It can be an intimidating process for everyone, but I do believe that there needs to be some way to figure out whether a company is real. On the other hand, I am not a venture capitalist or lawyer so I can’t necessarily gauge each [project ’s] ability to be successful.”
“We try to be selective with who we work with, but knowing about legitimacy is an ongoing problem within this space. I don’t think Google is in any position to be able to gauge that better, so, on a case-by-case basis, that may be difficult for people at this time.”
It should be noted that when considering how to separate legitimate cryptocurrency companies from scams, it is not often so black and white — most companies fall somewhere in the middle. As a result, it may not always be easy to distinguish illegal activity from mere mediocrity or incompetence.
Cryptocurrency Advertising in a Post-Google and Facebook World
Assuming that Google, Twitter and Facebook’s cryptocurrency advertising ban is here to stay, cryptocurrency and, to an extent, blockchain technology companies in general will be facing new challenges when it comes to promoting their brands and getting customers without the help of three of the internet’s largest corporations.
“I definitely expect to see some blowback from the crypto-community since social media has become the primary channel for communications in this very new market,” said Swan Burrus, a strategist with OgilvyOne Worldwide. Burrus also speculated as to whether further restrictions on these same platforms could be placed on bounty programs which incentivize support and promotion for specific cryptocurrencies.
Moroz, on the other hand, believes filling the space left by the absence of advertising on search engine and social media platforms will result in higher quality interactions through community involvement and relationship building.
I think it is going to become even more focused on relationships and finding trusted partners who can help them navigate the space. If you can’t necessarily afford an agency to do that, it would be worthwhile to at least do research or talk to people who have gone through that process. Projects can always go to different communities or cryptocurrency publishers that they trust for advertising.
Though going through the internet’s biggest online players will likely present advertisers the largest opportunity to receive the most impressions per ad, other organizations who work for cryptocurrency companies have found that it is not always best.
According to Shane Jordan, vice president of strategic insights at Spark Public Relations, Google and Facebook play a much more peripheral role than one would first think:
In our experience and data results, the Google and Facebook ad networks have not proved to be a significant driver of conversion and, thus, in past campaigns we have only included Google and FB ads as a very small percentage of the advertising media mix.
With the understanding that advertisers who use data will build ad campaigns around those places on the internet where performance measures highest, Jordan said his team works more often with publishers. “We've found that the best performing channels have been direct display advertising on targeted websites where we know crypto-investors get their news and market insights — and this is where we will continue to focus our efforts."
At the industry’s early stage, there is still clear disconnect or misconception between where advertising should place ads and where their customers want to see them.
Joking on the complicated yet fascinating dynamic of the cryptocurrency and blockchain technology space on an episode of his podcast, Cointalk, writer Jay Kang aptly summarizes an ideal future for cryptocurrency that many will continue to work toward:
What we really want is an atmosphere where you can make a good faith investment in a project because you think that the project has merit and potential for whatever reason. And that it is not going to be overrun by scammers, that theses shady things will not happen to them, that the exchange where they keep their money will not get hacked. And we’ll eventually get there.
Disclosure: BTC Inc is the parent company of Bitcoin Magazine.