The world has serious, systemic issues and people are crying out for leadership. Concentration on brand purpose positioning will get us so far, but our good intentions must be backed up by action. If brand purpose or mission is undermined by ad targeting based on performance metrics, we lose trust, waste money and are responsible for things that harm our customers and the societies they live in. And this happens every day, often inadvertently, across advertising ecosystems the world over.
It was these issues the Conscious Advertising Network was set up to look into, on a cold February morning 18 months ago. The morning of the meeting, Keith Weed had let rip about the state of the internet and threatened to pull Unilever’s ad spend from Google and Facebook: “Fake news, racism, sexism, terrorists spreading messages of hate, toxic content directed at children - parts of the internet we have is a million miles from where we thought it would take us.”
His message was clear: advertising was inadvertently funding some of worst of the internet, damaging brands and spreading harm. And we had a collective responsibility to change it. What could be a more rallying cry to action than the CMO of one of the world’s largest companies, threatening financial sanctions unless something happened?
So why, when the Gazeta Polska scandal erupted, did we find evidence of major brands and tech providers funding highly homophobic content on the site through their advertising? Why has it taken terrorist atrocities for us to consider our role in funding far right content online? Why was a huge fake news operation surrounding The UN Global Compact on Migration, which ultimately caused the collapse of the Belgian government, featured in the British press and funded by advertising? These are all issues of human safety and national security, inadvertently funded in some way, by the advertising spend of major brands, and facilitated by agencies and tech providers.