We Need to Level Up If We Want to Hit Sustainability Targets | Industry Insights | All MKC Content | ANA

We Need to Level Up If We Want to Hit Sustainability Targets


Sustainable media is not a new topic. The numbers around advertising emissions have long been discussed at industry events and in the press. To reach sustainability targets in the realm of media, it is crucial to bridge the gap between discussions on sustainable practices and their effective implementation. While numerous marketing technology solutions promise emission reduction, there seems to be disparity in how agencies and clients approach the issue.

Some agencies make grand commitments to net-zero while others are happy to onboard clients like Shell and risk a subsidiary's B-Corp status. Although the industry is making strides in areas such as energy consumption, waste management, and business travel reduction, the focus needs to extend to the bread and butter of our business. Digital advertising alone contributes to 3.5 percent of global CO2 emissions, surpassing the annual contribution of the aviation industry.

Certainly, individual efforts are commendable, however, in isolation, they are insufficient to lead the charge against advertising emissions. Moreover, the current emphasis on short-term performance and uncertainty about effects on performance through the use of sustainable media remain challenging barriers to agencies and clients alike.

Addressing digital advertising emissions should be standard practice across the industry. Increasing the effectiveness of your advertising, thereby reducing waste and unnecessary carbon emissions, permits you to be more sustainable with your advertising immediately.

Thus, targeting, channel selection, and campaign flighting should be as accurate as possible to optimize effectiveness. Furthermore, preventing click fraud or bot traffic, incorporating attention planning, and utilizing dynamic creative optimization are effective strategies to drive additional efficiencies and reduce emissions.

Four Levels of Client Engagement

Fundamental to more engagement with the topic will be continuous education as new technology is developed and carbon emission measurement becomes more accurate. However, eventually, we'll need to implement strategies that have sustainability at their heart in order to properly address the issue. Digital media is emitting more than air travel, and it is not like airplane manufacturers are ignoring their contributions.

To foster increased engagement with sustainable media, a four-level journey for clients is proposed:

1. Tracking: The easiest form of engagement is enabling all media to be tracked against the carbon emissions they emit. This could help internal sustainability reporting, raise awareness of the issue or simply set a baseline to eventually optimize against.

2. Testing: As mentioned, performance is likely to provide the largest barrier to properly engage with sustainable media. However, research shows that more sustainable vendors also tend to achieve higher levels of performance due to their commitment to latest ad technology. Thus, running an A/B test against sustainability criteria may provide proof to alleviate concerns regarding loss of performance.

3. Implementation: Run a full campaign with carbon reduction being one of the KPIs. This could either be done through carbon offsetting investment or asset and placement optimization.

4. Cross Channel Optimization: The ideal scenario, a sustainability-first strategy, where budgeting, channel selection and optimization all adhere to sustainability guidelines. Approach media holistically with sustainability efforts underpinning all media activity.

The four levels of sustainable media engagement allow clients and agency to make a case internally while not committing to a total shift in their media KPI setting straightaway. The levels are designed to allow for flexibility while still maximizing efforts to reduce carbon emissions according to how prepared the brand is at any given point in time.

Sustainability Must Become Fundamental

While educating the media agency ecosystem remains a priority, an integrative approach to sustainable media is essential. Instead of merely testing sustainability against performance, sustainability should permeate the planning process from start to finish.

Agencies should uphold the same principles they expect from clients. Relevant sustainability data should inform strategic insights, factor into media partner selection, and adhere to strict measurement benchmarks. Moreover, it is important to ensure that the latter does not only capture emissions of effective ads but also takes into account indirect emissions created through the work that goes into placing these ads.

It is imperative to recognize that sustainable media is not the sole responsibility of one agency. Collaborative efforts are needed to scale up initiatives and maximize impact over the long term. Starting with a cross-agency taskforce that maintains ongoing dialogue on the topic, regular sustainability audits, and adherence to a sustainability charter will ensure accountability and credibility, which parts of our industry thoroughly need.

While incremental steps are vital for widespread adoption, there is a pressing need to expedite the transition to sustainable practices to avert future challenges. Let us proactively embrace sustainable media now to prevent unwelcome surprises down the road.

Tilman Henschke is strategy manager at Crossmedia UK.

The views and opinions expressed in Industry Insights are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.