Ex-Airbnb CMO Jonathan Mildenhall: brands have a 'responsibility' over what they're funding

The Drum 29 Jun 2020 11:30
Jonathan Mildenhall on media spend transparency and brands pulling spend from Facebook: 'It's a huge responsibility'

As advertisers come under mounting pressure to boycott social networks over hate speech concerns, the former Coca-Cola and Airbnb marketer Jonathan Mildenhall says CMOs have a "responsibility" to know where their ad spend is going and what it is funding.

Now running his own business Twenty-First Century Brand in San Francisco, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur believes brands must ensure every ad dollar they spend is going into "an environment that promotes the right kind of human values that create adjust and fair society for all".

Mildenhall was talking to The Drum as more than a hundred advertisers – including Unilever, Honda, Patagonia and his former employer Coke – announced they were pausing spend with Facebook in support of a campaign to protect minorities and suppress hate speech.

“I've always said, if you are given the privilege of shareholder dollars to market brands in this world today, you have a responsibility to do so in a way that makes society better as a result of that investment," Mildenhall said.

"Transparency was, about a decade-or-so ago, and still is, very, very important. Consumer groups, non-profit groups, are really concerned about the ethics of supply-chain management. And now we're going to start to see an ongoing narrative. That is the ethics of media. And if you're an advertiser and you don't know where your dollars are going, that's a very precarious position to be in."

During the conversation with The Drum, he also discussed the "brutal" impact his marketing communications business experienced during the first few weeks of the coronavirus pandemic reaching Europe and America. But he added that as a result of the civil rights movement growing globally, he is being sought out by brands to help them deliver on their promises to improving racial equality.

"Those CEOs quite often followed up with corporate dollars, those corporate dollars are being channeled to organizations that campaign for civil justice and racial equality. And so the issue for the first time has kind of come out of the closet. And I'm a gay guy. I know once you're out of the closet, there's no going back.

Mildenhall added confidently that corporate leaders have grown in awareness that they have not been listening to minority voices, and have begun to create community outreach in order to make them a core part of their business planning.

Watch Mildenhall’s discussion as part of The Drum’s Can Do Festival where he also offers his views on the future role of the chief marketing officer, his thoughts on a need for growth in diversity and inclusion across Silicon Valley and some insights on his time working with Coca-Cola and Airbnb.

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