As Media Plans Go Green, What Content Will Be Left Out in the Cold?

Dan Meier 21 December, 2022 

Hot on the heels of COP27, the Conscious Advertising Network (CAN) convened for its Conscious Thinking Live Event to discuss responsible advertising, “wokewashing”, and the social and economic imperatives of sustainable media planning.

VideoWeek asked four CAN members for their views on how brands’ Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) commitments will shape media plans in 2023 – and what types of content will be left out in the years ahead.

Jake Dubbins, Co-Founder and Co-Chair, CAN

“I think we’re getting to almost a tipping point within the advertising industry where it is either going to properly lean into climate science or be forced to, because we can’t argue with science; it’s not a point of view, it’s what’s actually happening. So I think it will become the overriding factor in the years to come. We’ve just had COP27, which has declined to deal with the main cause of the climate crisis, which is fossil fuels. And so we are going to continue to see temperature rises, we are going to crash through 1.5 degrees, we’re probably at the moment looking like we’re going to go to 2.8 degrees, according to the latest estimate from the United Nations Environment Programme. So it will become inevitable that advertisers will have to align their interests with an ESG agenda.

What do suppliers need to do? Align with the facts, align with the science. I mean it’s crazy to me that there is this massive perception gap – we just did polling that we launched at COP, to see the distance between what the science says and what we need to do. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calls where we are now “a brief and rapidly closing window to achieve a livable future.” And every time I say that, I think it’s mad. We’re talking about a Livable Future. This is not like it’s a desirable future, like what sort of future do we want? This is about a Livable Future. So I think that this perception gap between what people believe are either the causes of the climate crisis or what needs to happen, and the gap of how that is reported, is stark and massive.

In terms of ESG, there are critical issues around the rise in LGBTQ+ hate crime against that community, that is clearly trackable to the rise in anti-LGBTQ+ narratives in the media – and it’s the same principle with climate. If you are going to publish climate-sceptic, climate-denier content, then I think largely that will be left off a media plan. Again, as I said, as we understand more about what is actually our future, it’s inconceivable that advertisers are going to continue to support that sort of content. And I think there is a coming reckoning; Twitter is seeing it right now, is Twitter going to become a Parler, Telegram, a fringe freedom of speech absolutist platform? Is freedom of speech, or freedom of expression, the only universal human right? No it isn’t. You’ve got to balance that freedom of expression with freedom from harm, and that collective responsibility. So I think if advertisers don’t steer away from that then that’s a dereliction of duty.”

Claire Gleeson-Landry, Head of Investment & Sustainable Media, Good-Loop

“I think more and more brands will realise that consumers expect them to invest in quality media. If they’ve got one thing being said in their creatives, then their investment in media has to be tied to that. Consumers are really good at spotting when an advertiser is being utterly disingenuous. So I think more and more brands will choose to invest in responsible publications, and execute their digital advertising in much more responsible ways, playing less fast and loose with the open marketplace and being a lot more selective as to where their advertising shows up.

Suppliers need to understand what they’re working with. That’s why we launched the Green Ad Tag, because you can’t manage what you can’t measure. So first things first, everyone needs to have a really granular diagnostic report of where their advertising is showing up. Obviously you’d like to think that anything to do with climate misinformation will be left off plans, and that advertisers will actively encourage really good quality reporting.

Crucially I think one thing that’s really important is the pursuit of cheap inventory and cheap clicks is going to have to come off media plans. Those long tail, made-for-advertising websites like need to stop receiving that funding in order for brands to truly be able to shift perceptions about themselves, and also they have that responsibility in terms of investing appropriately.”

Suzie Rook, Head of Group Brand and Design, SSE

“As a leading low-carbon energy supplier, we’re delivering the assets and infrastructure to deliver net zero. However ESG and sustainability is at the heart of our business strategy and informs the ways in which we look to tell that story, including through our advertising.

When it comes to media planning, we’re very careful to choose premium news brands and publishers that enable us to both be very focused on our specific target audience and reduce wastage, as well as have the confidence that our advertising is supporting quality journalism and less likely to be monetising mis/disinformation. Where we can, we’ll consciously invest in climate journalism and content and work with our media agency to review our brand safety settings to ensure we’re not excluding any content we would want to be supporting.

Going forwards, we will be increasingly advertising on digital media channels whenever we can, and with those platforms in which we have confidence that they have the right controls and policies in place to prevent climate mis/disinformation. If we need to use more traditional offline media, we’ll continue discussions with the media owners to look at their approach to sustainability and proactively choose those suppliers who are willing to work with us to explore sustainable solutions further.”

Dino Myers-Lamptey, Founder, The Barber Shop 

“As 60-70 percent of all budgets now are pretty much digital, the problem is predominantly a digital one, in terms of the energy usage and the environmental side of things – but also in terms of what advertising can fund in terms of hate, misinformation, changing political directions, and actually causing harm for targeting marginalised groups or just promoting false information and extreme views. So I think that the focus on technology helping to clean that up – but also the organisations coming together like CAN, to make more companies aware of what they can do, to avoid the money going in the wrong places – I think that it’s not just a trend; once people are informed and become aware of the issue, then I think they become an advocate.

What I think it will do is cut off a big long tail of bot-driven publishers that are low in quality, but for too long they’ve been getting advertising revenue because they’re part of the programmatic plan, and the goal has just been to maximise impressions and maximise clicks. The industry desperately needs to tackle the transparency and bot problem. I think advertisers will start to get more intelligent about actions, and people actually measuring real actions based on media buying – not just in terms of clicks and visits to websites, but also getting more intelligent about what’s happening offline as well, to see the true value of their advertising and to make better choices, to talk to real people in real quality environments.

I think there will be an increasing turn to more quality publishing environments, more intent-based solutions where consumers have actively offered their data and have really been specific on what they’re comfortable sharing. There’ll be less being spent in places that are a bit murky about how they’ve colleced their data as well. And then obviously you can’t ignore what’s going on with the bigger social networks, because there’s still a lot of improvements to be made there as a lot of that data is closed off, walled-garden kind of information. So advertisers will still use platforms where people are active, but they will hopefully through collaboration put more pressure on some of these networks to start to change their policies. That will therefore benefit the ESG ambitions of these brands.”

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