Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Sophie Strong: How to make your digital transformation agenda more sustainable.

Sophie Strong is Managing Partner of Media Experience at PHD UK and NDA’s monthly columnist.  She has worked in digital media for over a decade, spanning areas such as social, programmatic, and broader digital planning. 

A recent IAB survey found that following a year of increased consumption in digital media channels, and an unprecedented growth in digital media spend (+41%), digital transformation is at the heart of most businesses plans.

However, transformation is a phrase marketer’s have arguably been talking about since the 1940’s following the release of Claude Shannon’s ‘A Mathematical Theory of Communication’. In this publication Shannon came to the realisation that in order to have a theory, signals of communication must be treated in isolation from the meaning of the message that they transmit, and as such would rely on technology to ensure the message was transmitted correctly. Not too dissimilar from today, right?

However, when we think of it today, we can see how it has evolved. Still relying heavily on technology, the focus now goes beyond what Shannon was looking at; infiltrating everything from the evolution of new digitally led processes to maximise business capabilities, to enhanced customer experience to aid retention and acquisition.

However, consumer expectations of brands are shifting as we face into a global climate crisis, they want more than an enhanced user experience, they are looking to brands to make sustainable choices. Sitting shielded from a further heatwave in the UK it is almost impossible to ignore the negative impact that our industry choices can have on the climate, particularly in digital. Research exists, quantifying such impact and it is shocking.

A Good Loop study estimated that the average online ad campaign can generate on average 5.4 tonnes of CO2 emissions, that’s roughly equal to 13,000 miles travelled in a car!

Consumers are demanding more from brands and want to see a clear demonstration of change, as backed by a recent YouGov survey which highlighted 86% of British people stating it is important that brands and business take action against our climate change crisis. This includes everything from reducing the number of business flights, to cutting down use of plastic and replacing fossil fuels with renewable alternative.

Not just this, they’re keen to support. Forbes recently reported that nearly 90% of Gen X consumers said that they would be willing to spend an extra 10% or more for sustainable products, compared to just over 34% two years ago

Brands and businesses are adapting to this change. In a recent survey by ClickOn, four fifths of UK brands agreed that delivering sustainable advertising is an important message for their customers. A staggering 71% stated they would be aiming to deliver carbon neutral advertising in the next 5-10 years.  

It’s not just the advertisers, agencies and publishers are also seeking to make active change.

There is an impressive range of new tech solutions and partner models which allow brands to offset emissions or make more sustainable format and creative choices.

More excitingly though has been the rise in the number of initiatives in our industry, all of which have put aside the age-old agency rivalry to stand together for a biggest purpose. A strong example of this collaboration is the #ChangeTheBrief Alliance, an initiative designed to re-educate the industry about more sustainable choices. This single initiative has brought together some of the biggest holding groups, including; Omnicom, Havas, WPP, Oliver, Media Brands and M&C Saatchi.

Other initiatives include SBTI (Science Based Targets Initiative), WPP’s carbon calculator and AdNetZero. What is most heartening and interesting about the majority of this industry activity is the general openness to sharing the methodologies and processes for the greater good. 

For our industry this means re-evaluating what success looks like in the context of the climate change. So, what do brands need to be thinking about?

  1. Find out more. Your agencies are armed with a bank of material surrounding the role our industry plays in this crisis.
  2. Work with your agencies and partners to measure the carbon emissions associated with your marketing
  3. Review the new technology and tools out there which can help your brand make more responsible, sustainable alternatives that could improve carbon emissions.
  4. Test, test, test – ensure sustainability plays a part in your digital transformation roadmaps with a clear measure of success.
  5. Think about the long-term impact. Too often advertisers fall-short of true potential of delivering change by thinking in the short-term and focussing on metrics like CPMs to deliver more efficient pricing. To shift to a sustainable way of buying may come with an increased cost, but the reward in the long-term will be worth it.

Remember, even the smallest change will make a difference. We all need to play our part in tackling this crisis and make better, more responsible choices.