James Rose: Why your media buys are undermining your ‘good’ credentials

James Rose

“Customers expect businesses to ‘do good’ but don’t want them to be political or divisive.”

By James Rose, MD of Channel Factory Australia.

The ideas of ‘purpose’ and ‘doing good’ have taken a bit of a back seat in the marketing discourse in the last 12 months, as tougher economic times have focused minds on other areas. But that doesn’t mean people expect businesses to pack up their social agendas at the same time.

The recently released Good Study 2024 shows this in stark relief – a staggering 96% of Australians believe it’s essential for brands to make a positive impact. However, this desire for goodness comes with a clear caveat: steer clear of politics. Just 39% of Australians think brands should engage in social or political issues, and half would boycott a brand over its stance on current conflicts.

That’s a pretty big and scary caveat for any marketer. In today’s charged online environment it can be very easy for people to read the worst into a well-intended action, or call for a boycott over something that was seemingly harmless to the brand team. Just ask the people at Bud Light if you don’t believe me.

Of course, there are a few brands that will always wear their heart on their sleeve when it comes to doing good – Who Gives A Crap, Thankyou and Single Use Ain’t Sexy all stand for something as part of their core DNA. But for many brands finding a way into the ‘doing good’ conversation can be much tougher.

But, when you look at where people come together, it’s clear that movements that unite people are where brands can find a groundswell of support, with efforts to create social togetherness (+39%), actively stopping poor treatment of marginalised communities (+34%) and supporting First Nations Australians (+31%) the biggest movers in terms of expectation since the first study two years ago.

These last three points are all things most brands need to be addressing in their advertising campaigns – but not in the way you might expect.

You see, most businesses are unconsciously perpetuating these problems in the way they approach their media buys, which is creating genuine disparity and hardship in marginalised communities. The good news is it’s actually an easy enough fix once you understand the problem.

Current keyword blocklists often exclude content from posts or news stories by flagging words like “Black,” “Queer,” or “Muslim,” regardless of the content’s sentiment or suitability. It’s a problem for news publishers who deal with these topics every day. But it’s also a real tax on creators from these communities who are creating content to talk exactly about these topics. It means they are often defunded and penalised, despite often having the most rusted-on and hard-to-reach audiences for many brands.

It’s also a serious challenge for businesses as well. For us Aussies the word ‘bloody’ is a real part of the vernacular you’ll hear regularly on TV, radio and even kid-friendly YouTube content. In other parts of the world it’s a little more frowned upon, so suddenly blocklists will pull ads from content with the word ‘bloody’ in the title.

These blocklists get complicated when there are big news events. For instance, during sensitive events like the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it is still possible for brands to use keyword blocklists to avoid running ads against distressing content while still supporting reputable news organisations. But brands also need to go beyond the exclusion of the wrong content – leveraging inclusion lists to prioritise professionally produced news content ensures that brands are proactively supporting free speech and credible journalism.

The answer lies in getting more granular and understanding the consequences of these catch-all blocklists on your business. There may be things you don’t want to appear alongside, but this is different for everyone and these catch-all tools being employed have serious and unintended consequences.

Ironically, they are also bad at moderating where ads appear when it comes to harmful content and misinformation. It can be much easier for savvy purveyors of misinformation to game the system and get those dollars flowing into their coffers, because these tools don’t check for that. There is technology available which can catch these problems and ensure your advertising dollars do not support harmful narratives.

In the era of digital media, misinformation is a pervasive issue. Brands have a responsibility to ensure their advertisements do not fund or appear alongside misleading content. At Channel Factory, we use technology to continuously review and block content spreading misinformation. By maintaining a vigilant approach, we strive to protect the integrity of the media ecosystem and ensure that advertising dollars do not support harmful narratives.

The (often surprising) consequence of addressing the issues above is that it routinely leads to better results. So in a polarised world where customers expect you to be doing the right thing, but don’t want you to be political, there are some simple things you can do immediately to show them you are serious and show up in places your rivals probably aren’t.

That really is a win-win proposition.

Top image: James Rose

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