Conscious Advertising

Don’t just jump on the boycott bandwagon. Be conscious about all of your advertising choices.

The last month or so has seen a renewed focus on how and where advertising dollars could be funding hate, harming equality, or hindering movements such as Black Lives Matter.

It’s encouraging to see Facebook making some further moves to curb the spread of harmful content, and it’s clear the negative publicity – if not the actual reduction in spend from numerous advertisers – has prompted the platform to further its efforts. But many observers will argue that it’s still too little.

However it’s probably fair to point out that no company has spent more on tackling the spread of harmful content online than Facebook. Of course, those of us in our liberal metropolitan bubble will see it as a clear issue where right and wrong can clearly be discerned; but let us take a moment to consider the broader complexity of the issue. Where do you draw the line? Who is the arbiter of what is acceptable? Should a private company wield the power of which political messages get through, and which ones don’t? And as advertisers, are we demanding Facebook water down the same algorithm that allows us to efficiently find and acquire customers?

If the brand’s core equity is rooted in being a force for good, choosing not to advertise on Facebook builds and enhances the brand’s image.  So for brands such as Unilever or Patagonia or Fenty, such actions will add to their overall brand health metrics.  Conversely, if a brand chooses to boycott Facebook but it’s not known for other such actions, it will do little for its overall image or equity.  Furthermore, it risks the brand being seen as simply jumping on the bandwagon.  The exception being if such a boycott were the launch of a new ‘force for good’ facet to the brand, but this would require a large, consistent, visible and on-going commitment to avoid any sense of tokenism.

So if your business doesn’t have an established ‘force for good’ program, what can you do with the commercial and cultural power you wield through an advertising budget? At Yonder Media, we are members of CAN – the Conscious Advertising Network – which exists to highlight the choices advertisers have, and encourage organisations to be more thoughtful of where to invest ad budgets, because the choices we make can add up to steer the wider industry in the right direction.

We can put measures in place to tackle the ad fraud that funds organised crime; we can ensure our content is diverse and representative of society; we can invest our ad budgets into publishers that promote equality, not spread hate; and we can ensure that any data collected is on the principal of informed consent. In short, there are many more things we can – and should – do to ensure we protect and improve the ecosystem we live and work in.

So rather than just joining a Facebook ad boycott for a month, and counting this as doing your bit, we would encourage  everyone to take time out to review their own advertising choices. There is much work to be done, but as well as lobbying for change, brands can make a difference through simple daily actions. The more of us that take these small, but regular choices, the more difference it will make. That way, we can meaningfully balance commercial and societal priorities. There isn’t a silver bullet to this ever changing issue, but consistent, regular and conscious advertising choices will make a difference over time.

For more information on the Conscious Advertising Network, visit

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