Advertising Guest Columns
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AOP CRUNCH 4.2: A coordinated, action-led approach is vital to achieving ethical advertising

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The momentum behind ethical advertising is rapidly gaining traction. For the programmatic ecosystem, the call for change is sweeping through individual businesses and entire sectors alike. According to 62% of industry professionals, one of the most prominent challenges ahead is championing diversity and inclusion, while 50% are looking to establish more ethical approaches to data. In comparison, 59% of professionals cited recovering from the coronavirus pandemic as a key challenge.

There is evidently a strong desire to progress the ethical standards of advertising.

In the Association of Online Publisher’s (AOP) latest webinar, CRUNCH 4.2, we explored how attaining such a universal objective couldn’t be achieved by a single entity. Moderated by Kelly Jacobson Collins, Advertising Data Privacy Consultant, the panel of leading figures from agency, media owner and advertising intelligence backgrounds discussed how the industry can collectively attain effective, ethical programmatic practices.

The event delved into the roots of advertising ethics, the tools available to realise this goal, and best practices for industry players. From brand safety solutions and regulations to representation and inclusivity, the speakers shared learnings on how to uphold ethics and support the future of programmatic.

Rethinking the route to brand safety

During a time of widespread misinformation, brand safety should be a priority. In 2020, brand risk for desktop display environments increased 3.2 percentage points to reach 5.8%, while mobile web display’s brand risk grew by 2.3 percentage points year-over-year, rising to 6%.

When the news became saturated with coronavirus-related content in 2020, the implication of negativity put Covid-19 firmly on advertising blocklists, even in premium publisher environments. Although blocklists are a common method for ensuring brand safety, for Ryan Simone, Director Global Audience Solutions at VICE, they don’t provide an adequate solution to this, due to their lack of nuance and how easily they can be impacted by human error and bias. For example, at the start of the pandemic, ad agencies that included the keyword ‘coronavirus’ to their blocklist unintentionally penalised news organisations producing quality content on the pandemic and resulted in an estimated £50 million in publishing revenue losses over just three months. To overcome these issues, Simone advocates for media buyers maintaining a clear view of the words and URLs blocked by their brand safety providers. When evaluating the same content contextually, Simone argues that a significant proportion can be deemed brand safe and even brand suitable. Adopting contextual analysis allows advertisers to boost their reach while also enhancing the value of publisher inventory.

This view is reflected by Harrison Boys, Director Standards & Investment Product EMEA at MAGNA Global, who has witnessed automated contextual solutions achieve 100% brand safety without the use of blocklists. As the 24-hour news cycle is constantly opening new advertising opportunities, implementing these tools enables advertisers and media owners to swiftly and accurately measure ad environments for brand safety. Alongside maximising the reach and scale of news media, contextual solutions support more responsible advertising through adding value to under-represented publisher inventory.

Shifting mindsets from profit to people

Echoing the notion that ethical approaches offer strategic value, research has consistently shown how greater diversity strengthens business outcomes. To maintain this performance in programmatic, Dilip Shukla, Managing Director at Brand Advance supports shifting from a singular focus on economic prosperity to a more people-centric one. While advertising has traditionally concentrated on the ‘what’ – typically meaning revenues – it is increasingly important to consider the ‘how’. Diversity and inclusion are intrinsically linked to this shift, as businesses are discovering the value that a purpose-led, people-oriented approach brings to communities and audiences. As opposed to measuring ad campaigns with solely price-based metrics, Shukla advises monitoring more beneficial impacts, such as audience attention and brand uplift.

This is an effective way to understand how businesses are engaging with the audiences they represent in their media and advertising. Simona Gentile, Global Digital Lead at Mindshare WW believes the industry has a responsibility to empower audiences with authentic portrayals of under- or misrepresented minorities – and the only way to achieve this is through setting ethical metrics. Measuring the incremental reach of these efforts with specific audiences, as well as how audiences respond to representation, will allow the industry to make informed progress toward more genuine inclusivity. By redefining campaign outcomes, the programmatic ecosystem can take crucial steps toward ethical, people-centric advertising.

Who holds the power to initiate change?

All parts of the programmatic ecosystem must come together to maintain progress, as ingrained approaches won’t disappear overnight and further collaboration is still needed. Brands in particular can initiate crucial conversations with advertising partners around inclusivity, data usage and brand safety tools. Greater transparency between industry players will demonstrate the impact of traditional strategies on advertising performance. When buying patterns change, the demand for more ethical advertising will grow significantly, causing agencies and technology providers to adapt in response. For Ryan Simone, it is essential for companies to have people on the ground willing to push back on unethical approaches and provide the evidence for successful alternatives.

Along with internal change, the question of introducing further regulations is high on the ethical agenda. The EU and US, through the GDPR and CCPA respectively, have already set a precedent for external regulation regarding consumers’ data privacy. Governments and lawmakers could potentially set ethical standards for the advertising industry, but the complexity and dynamism of the ecosystem would require industry players to be proactively involved in setting these standards. Effective regulations depend on programmatic’s commitment to educating parties outside of the sector.

As the ecosystem adapts for a post-pandemic world, there is a positive opportunity to drive change for the better. Ethical advertising will be vital to sustaining the future of programmatic by unlocking valuable inventory, nurturing inclusivity and transforming advertising strategies. To paraphrase the sentiment of the AOP Crunch panellists, industry players will now be operating on actions, not words, to enhance performance and support ethical progress.

Richard Reeves
Managing Director, AOP

The UK Association for Online Publishing (AOP) is an industry body representing digital publishing companies that create original, branded, quality content. AOP champions the interests of media owners from diverse backgrounds including newspaper and magazine publishing, TV and radio broadcasting, and pure online media.