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How to develop ethics and KPIs in media investment

The Drum 15 Sep 2020 11:00
Traditionally, digital media economics have run largely on attention

Richard Reeves, the managing director of the Association for Online Publishing (AOP), has weighed in on the responsibility of media buyers to help shape the world around them.

Recent commotion over Co-op advertising in The Spectator is yet another sign we are living in times of massive disruption and cultural transformation. This latest altercation demonstrates passions are high and, as seen with other high-profile examples, prejudice will not be tolerated by the public and necessary action will be taken to empower change.

Covid-19 has not only accelerated awareness of our collective social responsibility, it has fuelled the public’s determination to hold businesses accountable. For brands, agencies and publishers, this means success is more closely tied to purpose than ever before and we are under greater inspection from all sides – peers, readers, rival publications, partners and investors.

Understanding and aligning with current culture has always been vital for digital media. To effectively capture consumer attention and create meaningful connections, content must resonate with what consumers care about.

No matter how enthusiastically companies commit to causes of social or environmental betterment, the majority of consumers still believe it to constitute a form of enlightened self-interest, and some CSR activity was more about ‘ticking a box’ to keep cynics at bay rather than driving genuine change.

Fast forward to today and the pandemic has provided a powerful catalyst for clarifying key priorities for consumers and brands. At a recent webinar hosted by AOP, Amir Malik, a digital marketing expert at Accenture, rightly observed that consumer needs have undergone a rapid reordering – switching from the higher self-actualisation level of Maslow’s hierarchy to essential requirements such as safety and trust. Consumer decision-making is driven by social and environmental concerns, and subsequently brand values are being tested and berated when they don’t live up to expectation.

Getting the measure of good ethics

But this overlooks one critical factor: quality. Allocating budgets exclusively towards attention raises the risk that advertisers will feed a negative growth cycle, powering growth and online influence for low-quality sites, meaning less revenue and reach for ethical publishers.

At a broad level, the industry should start to implement new methods of redirecting budgets to secure, high-quality and diverse publishers, such as creating ethical metrics to guide buying choices. Some agencies have already adopted this approach. For example, Havas incorporates its approach to CSR into every facet of its organisation and clearly outlines its commitments; Mindshare endeavours to ensure that every proposal has an element of sustainability; and Essence is putting a framework in place with environmental spend being core to the messaging.

But it will also be crucial to learn from consumer behaviour. Just as consumers have accepted their wider societal responsibilities, each media player – brands, agencies and publishers – must recognise and embrace their own role in fuelling progress.

By taking the wheel and setting a course for the new age of ethical investment, we can all benefit from a more purposeful media environment that’s about quality and value, not just profits.

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Richard ReevesAssociation for Online PublishingAOPAccenture
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