It’s no secret that how to deliver meaningful social impact has truly entered mainstream cultural discourse. Consumers expect more from brands than ever; 62% believe brands should take a stand on relevant cultural issues. The impact on purchase decisions is sizeable; 58% of consumers buying or advocating for brands.
As an industry, advertising is uniquely positioned; ingrained in all aspects of modern life, it can impact society and culture and ignite behaviour change for the better. And yet, we are also part of the problem. A steady increase in digital consumption is leading to heightened carbon emissions. The typical online ad campaign emitting about 5.4 tons of carbon. As an industry, we have the power and responsibility to ensure that business practices (internally and externally) affect society in a positive way and drive meaningful change.
Driving purposeful progress in social impact is high on the agenda for Merkle, as one of only two agencies in Media for Stonewall’s top 100. Merkle’s media practice kicked off 2023 with an event designed to drive discussion and action amongst media partner and brands.
Held in London and offsetting emissions generated, the “Connect With Purpose” event sought to start the conversation and pinpoint key action areas brands can take to drive meaningful progress. With a keynote from dentsu’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Anna Lungley, and several speakers from brands such a Vodafone and Hilton, to social platforms and partners making headway in social impact such as WeAre8 and GoodLoop, three panels discussed how to embed social impact into advertising, business and balance profit and purpose.
How to start: “Don’t wait for the brief”
Often, brands and partners wait for the right brief already aligned with social impact. What marketers can do is consider how they can create change with any brief received.
There is great importance in utilising the right insight and planning capabilities when approaching a brief to ensure that everyone’s voices are heard. Whilst audience segmentation is widely adopted by all brands in a briefing process, it can often lead to audiences being overlooked. Brands may want to look at considering broader targeting as it can avoid unconscious bias in segmentation models.
Measurement is also top of any brand’s agenda when testing new platforms and approaches. When embarking on new tests to deliver more meaningful social impact, benchmarks must be set to measure success. These may differ from metrics that have been historically evaluated against.
Tackling DEI and Sustainability as a business
DEI should sit alongside key marketing pillars, with equal weighting against creativity and innovation. Due to current pressures on marketing budgets, likely due to the cost-of-living crisis, often the focus shifts to short termism and DEI can fall to the wayside. Decades-old brand loyalty is being called into question as nervous consumers count every penny more carefully. Brand love matters more than ever, but love can be built through action not advertising alone.
The industry has a famously leaky bucket with regards to employment. With turnover high, businesses can combat this through creating more inclusive workplaces.
Authenticity vs tokenism
It’s important not to treat this as a box ticking exercise and to lead with authenticity in both comms and actions. Brands can lean on internal communities within companies for advice – by checking in with a diverse range of people more informed and inclusive decisions can be made. No brand or company wants to be accused of greenwashing, whether intended or unintended, and transparency is key here to build trust and loyalty with your consumer. This again links back to social impact to ensure that the right people are in the room at the point that decisions are being made: so it doesn’t get to the point of no return, otherwise known as ‘how on earth did that get signed off?!’.
Profit vs purpose intertwined
As an industry, advertising is focused on measurable metrics, and there is a challenge in understanding how to quantify true social impact. There is a need for the industry to set its own benchmarks and standard of measurement. The IAB made a foray into measurement with the State of Readiness Report. This sought to share key insights on the digital advertising industry's progression towards delivery of sustainable digital advertising.
There are other partners in the space that seek to contribute to the measurement space, including GoodLoop who launched the Green Ad tag. This tag is 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.
From a media buying perspective, there are increasingly more opportunities and companies to partner with that seek to give back to communities and the environment in some way, inclusive of GoodLoop. Weare8 is a socially conscious social app that offers the opportunity for users to give to their chosen charity in return for watching advertising. There is now opportunity to donate directly within ad formats, easing the journey more so than ever before.
Social impact should be at the forefront of every business, as, there will be no profit or business if the planet is dead.