Online advertising, like most other expenditures, is becoming more of a demanding investment under the conditions created by the lingering pandemic. Mainstream media has been full of discussions about the increasing cost of various material goods, but if you look to trade publications and industry websites you’ll find data to indicate that online advertising has a higher price tag, too.

At the same time, there’s plenty of reporting about the ongoing backlash against social media, especially in the wake of whistleblower complaints from Facebook insiders. That phenomenon raises serious questions about the comparative cost and value of certain kinds of online advertising, and it may encourage some digital marketing professionals to reconsider the strategies they expect to maintain through the end of the pandemic and beyond.

As it becomes necessary for some businesses to tighten their marketing budgets and make tough decisions about where they most want to try to capture an audience, some will surely leave Facebook behind in favor of resurgent or up-and-coming websites and social media platforms, such as TikTok. Others may aspire to a fuller departure from familiar methods of online advertising, and may even buck the algorithms that are such powerful drivers of engagement but also a subject of growing public skepticism and hostility.

People have every reason to espouse frustration with algorithm-driven content. They have indeed been manipulated by web giants’ use of their data, and have watched for years as their consumer behaviors were shaped by factors they could never quite hope to understand. For a long time, people took it for granted that this was just a natural consequence of online advertising, but in the midst of the current backlash and financial tumult, it is becoming easier for both consumers and site owners to respond to emerging alternatives.

Chief among those alternatives is a sort of influencer marketing which moves beyond the now-familiar practice of paying for product placement within the content of various social media superstars. Although that form of online advertising does not directly rely on algorithmic manipulation, it is unlikely to assuage the concerns of those who worry they are being tricked into viewing a brand message, instead of just being presented with it upfront.

Those people may respond better to the increasingly prevalent phenomenon of brands forming open partnerships with content creators and running straightforward online advertisements which mimic the old timey practice of companies sponsoring entire television shows and paying for its stars to present their advertising copy.

While it’s funny to note that this seems like it’s taken the world of online advertising back to circumstances that long preceded the digital age, it would be foolish to dismiss the potential impact of simply bringing a clear sense of humanity back into the paid content that consumers see every day.

Many people will be as annoyed by that content as they were by purely data-driven online advertising, just as many people have always changed the channel when commercials came on radio and television. But for others, transparency will make branded messages more palatable, and may even lead to greater trust in that brand, and more long-term consumer engagement.