by Florian Adamski
Restoring truth and trust is not beyond our reach -- but it must begin with enlightened leadership, writes the CEO of OMD Worldwide.
We marketers find ourselves at an inflection point.
From SXSW to the public agendas for the upcoming major marketing industry milestones at WFA and Cannes, the same themes are ringing out -- disinformation and misinformation, propaganda, hate speech, fake news and its effects, fraud and brand safety as the unintended consequences of rapidly evolving technology interacting with culture at blinding speed.
And as the recent conversation in Austin underscored, any solutions to these issues are unlikely to come from Silicon Valley, or an unprompted behavior change among consumers. Instead, it will be up to marketers -- brands and agencies alike. The public agendas for WFA and Cannes point in the same direction -- marketers are looking for solutions, and to be a force for good.
Before we can find a solution, however, we must understand the problem.
In 2019, our understanding of the world is largely mediated through platforms that live or die based on the ability to deliver reach and frequency, rather than the reliability, validity or potentially detrimental long-term effects of their content. We are all waking up to these effects now, and, as Chris Cox said on leaving Facebook, they are "not neutral."
In concert with proliferating disinformation, reliance on a pure reach/frequency approach can contribute to the decreasing presence of regional and local press -- organizations that play a vital role in a democracy as trusted information sources.
This trend has been underscored most recently in the US by Facebook, whose attempts to include local news content in user feeds have been frustrated by yawning news deserts. This should concern all of us for a simple reason -- at a time when towns, cities and states are dealing with critical issues on multiple fronts -- from growing their economies to educating their children to sustaining their resources, regional and local press are the forums through which consensus can be achieved and action ignited.
As a company that views all engagement through the lens of empathy, these issues have become impossible to ignore. For OMD, empathy is a core value and part of our planning approach, used and quantified in combination with available data signals and knowledge at our disposal to put ourselves in the shoes of the people we want to reach.
In the current context of increasing disinformation and decreasing trusted sources, it’s impossible to empathize with real people without considering how our media decisions might reverberate in their lives -- which is why we as an agency are looking for real solutions that can begin to reverse the current trajectory.
One approach is to adapt the planning process to consider the potential effects of our media decisions. Adopting a dimension of civic responsibility within media planning can help stem the flow of disinformation, sustain regional and local platforms, and inherently protect the relationships between advertisers and the public.
It is a progressive process that will evolve as technology continues to move us forward into the future, but it begins with a simple question: What unintended outcomes are we enabling with our advertising investment?
The question applies across industries and geographies, channels and platforms -- and the answers today are very different than they were a few short years ago.
Fully applying this approach is a huge task, but organizations are emerging to help. One such organization is United for News, a non-profit coalition working in partnership with the World Economic Forum. United for News is focused on transforming media markets around the world so that citizens, businesses and governments everywhere can benefit from the positive impact of high-quality, local news and information.
We believe in their mission and approach to help reputable, societally reinforcing news outlets around the world, and I urge my colleagues across the industry to engage with them. Admittedly, this is only a first step. And it clearly will require far more support than any one organization can provide to scale and sustain these efforts.
But the stakes are too high to sit on the sidelines and wait for someone else to step up. We at OMD want to collaborate with all parties involved to grow and sustain solutions. Restoring truth and trust is not beyond our reach -- but it must begin with enlightened leadership.