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Digital ad spending, while still growing overall, “has decelerated precipitously,” according to an analysis last month by the research firm Insider Intelligence.
Twitter seems to be faring the worst. The company has struggled to retain top-flight advertisers since Mr. Musk took over as owner in October, amid fears of a proliferation of hate speech and misinformation on the platform. Its 10 largest advertisers last year spent 55 percent less during Mr. Musk’s tenure than they did a year earlier, with six of them spending nothing so far in 2023, according to estimates from the research firm Sensor Tower. Twitter has offered buy-one-get-one-free deals, discounts and bonus incentives to lure back advertisers, media buyers said.
But advertising troubles have hit the biggest publicly traded social networks, too. Snapchat’s parent company last month posted its slowest-ever rate of quarterly growth and projected a sales drop for the current quarter. Google’s parent company, Alphabet, said ad sales at YouTube slipped nearly 8 percent in the latest quarter.
Last year, Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, reported its first decline ever in quarterly revenue (it fell again last quarter). Ad prices on Facebook and Instagram fell 24 percent in the last quarter of 2022 from a year earlier, according to the investment bank Piper Sandler.
Shareholder pressure, stoked by years of big profits, continues to push those companies to generate revenue wherever possible — including, experts said, through selling low-quality ads.
Corey Richardson, vice president at the multicultural ad agency Fluent360 in Chicago, said he was seeing more ads for items in which he had no interest — Hawaiian shirts featuring “Star Wars” characters, a fountain shaped like hands folded in the prayer position, all mixed in with vaccine misinformation and the occasional video depicting violence.
“They’re just taking whatever money comes — beggars can’t be choosers,” Mr. Richardson said.
Twitter did not respond to a request for comment. Meta declined to comment. YouTube said it invested “significantly” in ad quality and consumer experience.