At the same time, advertisers have given incredible power to three companies that operate massive data surveillance operations and have impacted society in unthinkable ways. In 2020, half of all US ad spend (not just digital spend) was allocated to Amazon, Facebook and Google.
The global effort to rein in the power of tech companies through antitrust, content moderation and privacy regulation is underway. Marketers should be thinking five years down the line to help define and make progress toward their digital future. This translates into less dependence on widespread, individualized tracking and targeting and the companies who created the playbook for it.
Over the past 18 months, we’ve seen the mindset begin to shift. From Chrome’s cookieless future to a 4A’s Decisions 2021 panelist who said “It’s no longer about what we can do with data, but what we should do with data," the industry is undergoing a major shift toward data ethics.
There are a number of parties who share responsibility that should consider their role in data collection and use. The party that interests me the most is the advertiser. I keep coming back to the same question: What’s the advertiser’s responsibility in all of this? Advertisers fund through media spend the very digital platforms whose business models are built on data collection and modeling. Plus, advertisers themselves collect data to offer more personalized experiences and inform marketing.
We talk a lot in the advertising industry about being “consumer-centric.” This motto applies to data practices as well. Of course, advertisers have a responsibility to be transparent with consumers about how they use their data. It's the least they can do. Every advertiser should build and maintain a data ethics agenda, advocate for consumers’ data interests and even be willing to sacrifice performance to prepare for a more considerate digital future.
Here’s what I propose:
Establish a data ethics agenda
Advertisers have the responsibility to be selective in the data they collect and be intimately familiar with the data they use to market to consumers. This means taking the time to ask “how am I going to use this data?” and “why do I need this data?” before deciding to collect it.
It also means that clients have a responsibility to understand all the data providers and targeting tactics that agencies are using before signing off on a media plan. This goes beyond legal compliance to a true understanding of how media is being transacted.
Take cues from GroupM’s Data Ethics Compass and the WFA’s Data Ethics Guide. It’s no longer acceptable to operate with eyes wide (or partially) shut.
Use investment for advocacy
It’s time to reframe our thinking to acknowledge that media investments fund the virtuous data collection cycle and many broader issues we face as a society. Media investments are a representation of a brand’s values. Every advertiser should consider using or holding their investment to make the change they hope to see.
Be willing to sacrifice performance
Advertisers, and the business leaders they report to, should commit to consumers’ data interests and a more considerate digital future, and as a result, be willing to sacrifice marketing performance.
From reconsidering that questionable data provider despite their performance to testing your way into the cookieless future, we must be prepared for the potential impact on performance. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but one that we must brace for. Ultimately, we’re headed for a more mindful digital future and the industry will be held to account.
I hope advertisers will reconsider what it means to put “consumers first” and lean into the sacrifices they will have to make along the way. I’m excited to see where the industry goes with data ethics and corporate social responsibility.