The Sad Reality Of Digital Media Today And What Comes Next

July 10, 2018

Digital media and advertising is a complete mess today.

My parents are in Europe right now and while planning for the trip, my mom called me last week to share some pretty absurd travel warnings. I asked her where she found out about them. Her answer: Facebook. I then had to explain to her that what she read was likely not true and that she cannot believe everything that she reads online.

Consumer attention is being traded unfairly, data often abused and we are not sure what to trust online anymore. Publishers do not have profitable or sustainable digital business models to continue to invest in creating high-quality, trusted content. And brands are starting to put more money back into traditional media because of the digital swamp.

I’ve become curious about how the web got into this mess and where we go from here. After several conversations with consumers, publishers, and brands over the past few months, here is what I’ve observed about how the web has evolved…

First era: The Open Web

The first era of the web started about 20 years ago, which we call the ‘Open Web’. Consumers globally flocked online, hardware and device connectivity went mainstream and services like Google, Wikipedia and online content became popular.

About 10 years into that journey, around 2008, programmatic technologies were introduced for advertising and fast-forward to present day, the Open Web has become the ‘Dirty Web’. With ad blocking, annoying and creepy ads, bots, fraud, data breaches, privacy regulation, brand safety concerns, toxic and divisive content, the number of issues continue to pile on and when something is so dirty that it cannot be cleaned, you throw it out.

The process of throwing out the Dirty Web has already started. The adoption of ad blocking is a signal that consumers are throwing out the Dirty Web. Publishers investing in new revenue streams like subscriptions, events or commerce show they have also thrown out the business model for the Dirty Web. Most brands are reducing their digital ad spend on the Dirty Web as they do not trust it anymore.

Second era: The Social Web

The second era of the web started about 10 years ago, which we call the ‘Social Web’. Led by Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, consumers began creating, sharing and consuming content with each other on mass and this was further accelerated with the rapid adoption of smartphones.

Now 10 years into this second era, present day in 2018, the cracks of the Social Web that got too big, too fast, are starting to show. Concerns with Facebook about data, privacy and trust and issues with YouTube about brand safety and funding extremist content are showing that the Social Web is becoming the Unsafe Web. Unsafe for your kids, for your mental wellness, for your content, for your brand and for your data.

While social platforms may be too big to fail, they are increasingly trending to become the Closed Web in the coming years. Consumers will have more control over their data and how it is used, making it difficult for current digital advertising practices to continue. Publishers already see these platforms as closed, as they get very little for giving quite a lot. An agency executive recently told me that Facebook is going to be useless to them in a few months after their third-party data integrations stop working. Brands will have an increasingly challenging time getting data into or out of the Closed Web.

Third era: The Trusted Web

The third era of the web is being born in front of us right now, and we are calling it the ‘Trusted Web’. This is the vision for a better future for the web, one where trust is at the core. We all know it’s desperately needed.

There are many signs that the Trusted Web is becoming a thing. Consumers are starting to pay for content they trust, be it Netflix, news subscriptions or audio services. The volume of Amazon boxes on the sidewalks of any urban street show us that people trust the web as a platform to buy stuff. The demands for real news versus fake news, for the benefit of society, are continuing to get stronger. Privacy and data regulation has gone mainstream and is top of mind for consumers.

Consumers are leading the move to the Trusted Web with their actions. Publishers have a pulse on what consumers understand and what they are looking for. And brands will follow, as they look to establish trust with their customers and realize that the Dirty Web and Closed Web may not be serving their interests in a way that’s aligned with their values.

Our Mission at Polar

Our team at Polar has fallen in love with this vision of a better future for the web, one where trust is at the core of how consumers, publishers, and brands relate to one another.

We have now made it our mission to enable a business model for the Trusted Web. This is important work and something that our team finds meaning and purpose in. We believe the Trusted Web is critical for our global society and know that we are all impacted by it on a personal level, day-to-day.

As we continue to invest in our branded content and advertising solutions for publishers, we have an eye towards a refined mission for our business and believe that many of you will come along with us for this exciting new journey.

Welcome to a new era, powered in part by Polar, the Trusted Web.

Kunal Gupta is the Founder & CEO of Polar, a technology platform provider whose mission is to enable a business model for the Trusted Web. Polar’s partners include major global publishers and the business has offices in Toronto, New York, London and Sydney.

Kunal is passionate about finding calm and focus in a modern era. Kunal is on the board for CAMH, Canada’s leading mental health hospital and research organization. He writes regularly on the topics of leadership, mindfulness and technology culture on his blog at

You can connect with him on LinkedIn.



Polar’s Snapshot of Global Branded Content Performance presents the complete picture for major markets and publishers this past year. This benchmarks report presents a detailed look at global aggregate performance data, as well as specific performance across Australia, United States, and United Kingdom.