Big media players like Unilever and Procter & Gamble Co. have been talking plenty about making media more responsible. Now they’re getting more people to talk. The marketers are launching the Global Alliance for Responsible Media alongside 14 other global advertisers, the five leading agency holding companies and media companies that include Google, Facebook and NBC/Universal.
The Alliance will begin with an announcement session at WPP Beach in Cannes on Tuesday morning. Advertisers involved also include Adidas, Bayer, BP, Danone, Diageo, General Mills, GSK Consumer Healthcare, LVMH, Mars, Mastercard, Mondelez International, Nestle and Shell.
Media participants also include Teads, TrustX, Twitter, Unruly and Verizon Media (Fox has a Bungalow nearby down the Croisette, but hasn’t signed on yet.)
Industry organizations have climbed on board too, including the Association of National Advertisers, 4A’s, Interactive Advertising Bureau, ISBA, Mobile Marketing Association, Coalition for Better Ads, Effie Worldwide and World Federation of Advertisers.
After Tuesday’s announcement, the first formal meeting happens Wednesday in Cannes. In a release, the group cryptically says its first order of business will be to form “an inclusive working group charged with prioritizing a set of concrete steps already under consideration.”
Of course, some of the alliance’s media members have been called out plenty of late for being less than responsible.
Alexander Nix, the former Cambridge Analytica CEO who allegedly mined Facebook data illicitly to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election, among other things, is on the Cannes agenda later in the week.
Eric Feinberg, founder of the Global Intellectual Property Enforcement Center, whose system ferreted out some of the problems on Facebook and Instagram that P&G Global Brand Officer Marc Pritchard cited in an April speech calling for media responsibility, keeps finding more issues. On Monday, he emailed a link to a video made by the perpetrator of the March mass murder at a New Zealand mosque, which has remained up on Facebook for three months. In recent months, he’s also found cases of two other executions housed on Facebook for days or weeks before they were taken down, along with ads for illicit drugs.
In a Monday panel held by MediaLink, a unit of Cannes owner Ascential, John Gerzema, CEO of the Harris Poll, said Facebook’s ratings on “trust and respect” plummeted 43 percentage points in the past year in the firm’s brand reputation tracking survey amid bad press on brand safety and privacy issues. “It actually fell faster than Wells Fargo,” Gerzema said. “It’s the biggest fall for a brand in the 20 years of our data.”
But he said the poll also found people hold brands twice as responsible for the content surrounding ads as they hold media companies, putting more pressure on advertisers.
'The status quo is untenable'
Certainly the big digital players are listening–though it’s not clear they can truly fix the problems.
In a statement announcing the alliance, Kirk Perry, a former P&G executive and now president-brand solutions at Google, says: “Responsibility is critical to sustaining a healthy ecosystem and remains our number one priority.”
In an interview, Facebook Vice President-Global Account Partnerships Will Platt-Higgins says the new alliance should be taken seriously. “They want to get runs on the board, not be a committee,” he says. “They and we believe that building an alliance of leading advertisers, leading agencies, media companies and the industry bodies is the best way of doing that versus just the clients or just the agencies.”
Through all the bad press and calls by advertisers for digital platforms to clean up their acts, the companies doing the complaining keep advertising on the platforms, whose ad revenues keep growing at a healthy clip. It leaves the impression that big brands feel they have no choice, calls for responsibility or no.
“I assure you we do not take the investments for granted or think they have to keep spending with us,” Platt-Higgins says.
Facebook is making progress, he adds, including catching more than 90 percent of Isis and al-Qaeda posts and increasing the percentage of hate posts it finds and removes to around 60 percent.
“Sure it’s not perfect,” he says. “But demonstrable change has been made. We’re never going to be able to promise zero incidents at our scale.”
One thing of note: Being in the alliance does mean Facebook is identifying as a “media company,” something CEO Mark Zuckerberg took issue with in Congressional testimony last year.
Platt-Higgins says joining the group is “definitely an acknowledgment of responsibility. But we’re a technology company in the business of providing people a voice and a community.”
Some marketers put a little sharper edge on their alliance joining statements than others. Luis Di Como, executive VP-global media at Unilever, says: “When industry challenges spill into society, creating division and putting our children at risk, it’s on all of us to act.”
“The status quo is untenable,” says Robert Rakowitz, global head of media for Mars. “Our work through the alliance will allow us to shift from driving reach at all costs to building reach with responsibility.”
Gerry D’Angelo, global media director of P&G, says, “For far too long, issues with trust in our industry have been managed one conversation at a time. Now for the first time, the formation of this alliance is an opportunity to harness our collective efforts for the greater good.”