As an industry, advertising is uniquely positioned to deliver meaningful social impact. It is ingrained in all aspects of modern life. Brands have the power to influence society and culture and can ignite behaviour change for the better. This is also something consumers have come to expect - and 82% now report they want a brand’s values to align with their own, while three-quarters say they have left a brand over a conflict in values.
Our industry has responsibility when it comes to social impact. Consider that the typical online ad campaign emits about 5.4 tons of carbon. In marketing, we have the power and responsibility to ensure that business practices (internally and externally) affect society in a positive way and drive meaningful change.
This potential to positively impact sustainability and DE&I in advertising formed the basis of our ‘Connect With Purpose’ conference recently. The event brought together speakers from brands such as Vodafone and Hilton, alongside social platforms and partners making headway in social impact such as WeAre8 and GoodLoop. Across three panels, leading lights from across the industry revealed how they embed social impact into their business, balancing profit and purpose. Read on to hear about the top insights and thoughts from the event.
Embedding authentic social impact
For Laura Chase, Chief Commercial Officer at social media platform WeAre8, embedding social impact must start proactively; “We often see brands and partners waiting for the right brief. What we should be doing is considering how we can create change with any brief we receive. The change starts here. Creating the right brief means ensuring every brief works harder from a people and planet perspective, and this doesn’t equate to compromised performance.”
This proactive approach is particularly pertinent when it comes to ensuring authentic approaches to Diversity Equity & Inclusion (DE&I). All our panellists were passionate that DE&I is not treated as a box-ticking exercise, but one that it is rooted in authenticity.
Zehra Chatoo, Chair of DEI Council and Meta, also acknowledged the importance of utilising the right insight and planning capabilities when approaching a brief to ensure that everyone’s voices are heard. As an industry, we widely adopt audience segmentation models in the briefing process, but this can often lead to audiences being overlooked. From Zehra’s perspective, “brands should consider broader targeting as it can tell you who you’re missing and avoid unconscious bias in segmentation models.”
Maria Koutsoudakis, Brand and Marketing Director at Vodafone, emphasised the importance of leaning on internal communities within companies for advice. Businesses therefore need check in with a diverse range of people to make more informed and inclusive decisions authentically.
Naren Patel, founder of Media for All, also pointed towards the importance of social impact to attract and retain talent, noting that “the industry has a famously leaky bucket, and businesses can combat this through creating more inclusive workplaces”.
Alongside authenticity in DE&I, greenwashing was also high on the agenda. It’s clear that brands have an urgent responsibility to drive action on climate change. Yet, the panel noted that too many instances of poorly constructed and communicated programs are damaging the industry’s efforts. Consumers easily see through inauthentic attempts to peddle green credentials if this is not reflective of a brand’s approach both in and outside the organisation.
The panel heard how Tesco, the UK’s largest supermarket, is addressing one of the biggest barriers to sustainable action – shareholder profit. As reported in the Grocery Gazette, Tesco has set an ambitious deadline to cut food waste in half by 2025 and linked that objective directly to executive bonuses.
Measuring authentic impact
Further research found that more than 9 in 10 consumers want brands to demonstrate they are making positive choices about the planet. Tangible change can only really be achieved if brands implement metrics to measure it.
However, just 9% of FTSE 350 companies have measurements linked to a purpose statement in their annual reports. If purpose isn’t measured in the boardroom and by shareholders, how can meaningful change be delivered? As an industry, advertising is focused on measurable metrics, and there is a challenge in understanding how to quantify true social impact.
Adrian Cutler, Global Agency Director at Microsoft observed that “there is a need for the industry to set its own benchmarks and standard of measurement.” He pointed towards the IAB State of Readiness Report that sought to share key insights on the digital advertising industry's progression towards the delivery of sustainable digital advertising.
There are other partners in the space contributing to the clear measurement for social impact, including GoodLoop’s launch of its Green Ad tag. Stuart Hands, Head of dentsu at GoodLoop explained that they are able “to measure digital campaign carbon costs in real-time, with the inclusion of a TreePM rate that plants one tree for every thousand impressions purchased”.
More than a tick of the box
Ultimately, social impact should be at the forefront of every business. In the words of Anna Lungley, Chief Sustainability Officer at dentsu, “there will be no business if the planet is dead”. Whilst there are often debates on how brands can deliver both profit and purpose it’s clear that balancing both is key to long-term growth.
Being brave enough to start the conversation is the first step towards making a difference, get in touch to learn more. We’ll ensure you’re optimising your social impact strategy and setting your business up for future success.