Securing brand legacy means tackling social issues and ad fraud

Brands need to tackle ad fraud and and take on difficult issues, says Unilever chief marketing and communications officer Keith Weed.

Brands. Love them or hate them, they are an integral part of our lives. I challenge anyone to go into a supermarket and get out in less than 10 minutes with what they need without brands to help guide them through. At the same time, we all know that the world is changing faster than ever. It is a naive brand manager – or CMO – who isn’t considering what the brands we build might look like in the artificial intelligence-enabled, virtual reality-enhanced, social media super-charged future.

The possibilities of providing individuals with carefully tailored communications, while using a wide range of influencers – from social media savvies to academic experts – to share your brand message are re-imagining the effect that our brands can have, both on the global stage but also in very localised, culturally specific instances.

For example, brands such as Ben & Jerry’s tackling climate change with its global ‘Save our Swirled’ campaign. It brought together almost 800,000 people to march for climate justice, and more than 3.5 million signed the petition asking world leaders to shift to 100% clean energy. More locally, Persil is working in the UK with Sir Ken Robinson and Project Dirt on ‘Outdoor Classroom Day’, to get kids engaging in real play outside of the classroom. As an industry, we have the power to challenge how things are done, locally and globally. With our billions of pounds of ad budget we can really change things. And challenge and change we should.

READ MORE: Ben & Jerry’s – Why standing for a cause can build stronger customer bonds

This is not only in the area of purpose and social impact. One of the characteristics of being a CMO with an engineering background is that I am equally fascinated with both the creativity and the data of marketing. And in today’s rapidly changing digital ecosystem, that has turned out to be no bad thing.

The past few years have seen the explosion of digital advertising, and as with any multi-billion dollar industry that emerges, there will be challenges. A key topic facing us as an industry at the moment is ad fraud: activity where impressions, clicks, actions or data events are falsely reported to criminally earn revenue, or for the purposes of deception or malice. Basic reporting will show a visitor to be authentic, but it is actually fraudulent, and these fraudulent visitors can be entirely mechanical, human or a mix of both. In fact, bot traffic represents 60% of all website traffic (with approximately half of them being bad bots).

The potential damage of this activity to our profession, our industry and our brands is mission critical – the cost of ad fraud is estimated to be around $7.2bn (£5.8bn), which is around 5% of the total global digital media marketplace. By 2025, it is estimated that this figure could be more like $50bn (£35bn) – and that’s a conservative estimate. In a recent study on fraudulent activity, Unilever came out on top in terms of low fraud performance. One of the reasons for this is that we actively manage for this and have a healthy paranoia, being at the forefront of shaping how we plan and buy our media. We also work closely with the industry to lead for change, working for example with the ANA and WFA.

I have talked before about the need for trust and transparency as the magic ingredients in brand building. As an industry, we have a responsibility to create advertising that both provides utility and enjoyment for our consumers, while challenging the status quo of what we see around us – as the examples provided show. And our agencies have a responsibility to make sure that advertising gets to real people. It is as simple and as complex as that.

These issues may feel miles apart, but a week before the industry decamps to Cannes for the annual celebration of the best and most creative work of the past year, I see common ground. First, in working to tackle fraud and establish the integrity of the ecosystem. The second issue is much more wide-facing, and is about brands taking on the difficult issues, the ones where they can really have a positive effect on the world we live in. Both are within our power to change. And both are critical to the future of the brands we build.

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Ad fraud: The marketing industry’s $7.2bn problem

Sarah Vizard

Brands are continuing to waste billions of pounds on digital ads that consumers never see despite repeated warnings over the prevalence of ad fraud. It is time for marketers to step up and ensure they understand the issue and have procedures in place to deal with it or be more realistic about the efficacy of digital advertising.