Commentary

Got Ethics?


Just before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted my “normal” coverage of the advertising industry, I began working on a series of initiatives related to the industry’s ethics, especially its use of consumer data. The project involved some benchmark cultural workshopping with Omnicom’s Sparks & Honey, a series of advertiser and agency interviews fielded by Advertiser Perceptions, and some background discussions on some concrete steps being taken by the fledgling Institute for Advertising Ethics. While the pandemic and its economic aftermath continue to play out, it feels like it’s time to return to this project for a couple of reasons.

One is that the World Federation of Advertisers this morning published an important new report on the ad industry’s ethics, especially its increasingly questionable uses of data. The other is that the IAE is poised to hold a symposium exploring those very same issues and also is launching a new certification program to ensure that marketers, agencies and other third parties do it according to structured ethical standards.

The timing seems logical for all of the above, because the WFA found that three quarters (74%) of CMOs believe data ethics will be a crucial part of their businesses over the next five years, and that, if anything, COVID-19 has raised new issues around data collection and privacy.

Moreover, 40% of the WFA members already feel “morally uncomfortable” about their company’s use of consumer data.

“We should not default to an attitude of “because we can, we should” in terms of data usage,” says WFA CEO Stephan Loerke, adding: “The ad industry needs to have a conversation on data that distinguishes ‘the right to do something’ from ‘doing the right thing’.” You can download the WFA’s report here.

Meanwhile, watch for my byline over the next couple of months as I dive back into the issue, and get back on track starting with a report on our initial work with Sparks & Honey, as well as some data from Advertiser Perceptions and other sources.

Now for some big news. The IAE, which was incubated by the American Advertising Association, is about to take its own wings, starting with a virtual symposium on June 8, and plans to launch a new advertising ethics certification program early next year.

“Most industries have some form of ethical certification,” explains Andrew Susman, founder of Studio One and a former media agency executive (Empower), and a member of the IAE council, who is organizing the symposium and the certification program along with Executive Director Wally Snyder (President Emeritus of the AAF). “Medicine, the law, electricians and engineers all have some form of industry certification.”

Anyone interested in helping to define and develop such standards for the ad industry should participate in the upcoming symposium, because it will be the basis for outlining the certification program, which will be called the CEAE, or the Certified Ethical Advertising Executive.

1 comment about "Got Ethics?".
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  1. Robert Williams from Mediapost, June 1, 2020 at 3:55 p.m.

    Interesing!

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