Nori Takahiro
Jan 5, 2017

Rocked by scandals, Japan must change

Two scandals rocked the Japanese marketing industry in 2016, but could lead to an improved online environment in the year ahead.

Rocked by scandals, Japan must change

Editor's note: We'll be featuring 2017 Outlook content from the latest issue of Campaign all this week. Subscribers can see it all now in the emagazine.

The dust had barely settled from the revelation that Japan’s largest agency, Dentsu, had been overcharging Toyota for its online advertising, when yet another controversy emerged to call the nation’s online marketing practices into question. 

In early December, mobile internet company DeNA shut down nine of its 10 content curation sites following criticism over poor and inaccurate healthcare advice on wellbeing portal, WELQ. The site, which provided free health-care advice, was publishing unedited content from non-healthcare professionals. 

DeNA CEO Isao Moriyasu said in a release that the company would remove all articles from nine of its 10 sites and that he would take a 30 percent pay cut for half a year in penance. 

What implications do these two developments have for Japan’s digital advertising industry? 

Both scandals have eroded trust in online content and digital advertising. Let’s start with the curation issue. After the DeNA scandal broke, other similar sites began to shut down. Curation sites in Japan have been able to amass so much content and rank high in Google and other search engine results by crowdsourcing through amateur writers who produce a lot of heavily plagiarised articles. 

Google’s algorithm cannot truly understand the web content, and that leaves it open to abuse by [clickbait] websites

This is what can happen when a powerful company can order cheap crowdsourced articles in bulk. A close look at such platforms in Japan reveals that the biggest transactions have been for website content production. The crowdsourcing platforms and other curation vehicles were accomplices in the DeNA scandal. I expect some weeding out and even a contraction in that arena. 

The shockwaves will eventually extend to corporate ‘owned media’ sites. Those that cannot create original content will probably begin to disappear. This could lead to the extinction of curation websites, crowdsourcing, and content marketing. That said, the signs are good that high-quality content, properly run sites will survive. 

It is worth noting that DeNA did not adopt black-hat SEO methods to attain high page rankings on Google and other search engines. It quite faithfully adhered to Google’s webmaster guidelines—but Google’s algorithm cannot truly understand the web content, and that leaves it open to abuse by websites that achieve high search rankings by high-volume publishing.

This event has demonstrated that vulnerability, so we can expect an acceleration in the evolution of search engines that leverage artificial intelligence towards deeper content comprehension. 

The Dentsu incident, meanwhile, could well lead to the spread of ad verification and viewability metric services. Far too many Japanese advertisers are only interested in click and conversion metrics. The Dentsu scandal may drive a flight to quality in online advertising, especially among major companies. We will very likely see the emergence of ad verification and viewability service providers. 

While the DeNA and Dentsu scandals have left deep scars, the upside is that we could well
see a healthier online environment in Japan in 2017 as players improve their practices and focus more on authenticity.

Nori Takahiro is founder of Sukedachi and a business representative of Sharethrough.


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