The future of advertising: dealing in the currency of trust
What is happening?
Some of the world’s largest companies (including Patagonia, Coca-Cola, Adidas, Unilever) are backing a movement called Stop Hate for Profit, an initiative that seeks to hold Facebook accountable for its inaction in reducing hate speech online. Together, these companies are pulling back millions of dollars’ worth of ad spend, citing they will refuse to spend any more money with Facebook unless meaningful steps (accountability, decency and support) are taken to combat (or at the very least not promote) hate speech on the platform.
Patrick Weller, the European marketing director at Patagonia said the aim of the movement is to ensure Facebook’s “business model can no longer profit from hate, racism, anti-Semitism, climate denialism and the undermining of civil and human rights.”
In part, these companies don’t want to be associated with hateful content — having their brand appear alongside such content is surely detrimental to their brand’s hard-earned appeal. However, as Facebook faces ongoing public criticism, it seems that the ‘Facebook freeze’ is largely driven by companies’ fearing a connection to Facebook as a brand itself.
Why is it important?
Picture this: your brand is sat alongside unverified rhetoric denying climate change or promoting racial inequality. Do you want your brand to contribute to an unmitigated, unregulated wave of disinformation through mere association? Do you want your brand to appear on a platform that is openly associated with and profiting from distrust and ‘fake news’?
Stop Hate for Profit is companies’ knee-jerk reaction to years of cumulative ‘questionable’ actions from Facebook. For various reasons, Facebook wants to remain a platform without editorial power (in contrast to Twitter). However, we live in an ‘accountability culture’ where consumers are empowered to hold their brands to higher moral imperatives.
The moral bar for brands has never been higher, but considering morality is relative, the very least people want is clarity. Psychologists have identified that within a pandemic there is a contagion of misinformation, this has resulted in what the WHO are calling a ‘disinfodemic’. People seek trusted expertise; they want truth and security. The very least brands could offer is verified information.
Brands and companies have a responsibility to their consumers to help them navigate this disinfodemic. It’s an opportunity for brands to “build trusted tools & services, ensuring they are the credible sources of expertise, information & advice”.
Companies need to foster trusted relationships with consumers
In 2016, the EU laid foundations that aimed to mitigate the misuse of personal information and to protect individuals through updated GDPR regulations. The Cambridge Analytica scandal brought the idea, and the fear, of personal data security into the public eye and involuntary ad targeting was found to be a gross violation of individual rights and breach of trust.
For years, companies have traded in consumers’ digital character sheets, but as people trust companies less and seek greater control over their own data, perhaps we will see a future where individuals will demonstrate their level of trust and satisfaction with a company through transactions of personal data.
Deloitte believes that companies should first earn the trust of consumers, ensuring greater transparency and giving consumers full control of their own data. They see the focus shifting from customer acquisition to customer retention and growth through word-of-mouth. Basically, this means ensuring a pleasant end-to-end experience people trust and want to share with and recommend to others.
This sentiment is also shared by Andrew Yang, a former US democratic candidate, who goes further to state individuals should earn “royalties” on their data whenever it is used. A more ‘diplomatic’ solution acknowledges that companies need to utilise personal data but also grants the consumer greater agency, thus ensuring responsible data usage and promoting a transparent, trusted relationship between consumer and company.
But what does this mean for advertising online?
With trust and credibility as the most important assets a company and brand can have, what is the future of social media content? How will platforms and brands define what is ‘safe’? To what extent (if any) will the world’s largest social media platforms monitor, filter and censor people’s posts? Will this help push society towards a more empathic future or just further alienate groups that perpetuate hate, pushing them deeper into their own echo chambers?
Trump’s 2016 election surprised many pundits across the world. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz is one commentator who successfully predicted the outcome, exposing the secret racist proclivities of America in his book, ‘Everybody Lies’. He explains the ‘Trump phenomenon’ through the secret, silent data of Google searches. Just because we silence online conversation does not mean it does not exist. Rather than silence or drive hate speech underground, we should find responsible ways to foster open and honest conversation around these topics.
Brand Genetics advocate that brands should act responsibly on behalf of their consumers. When we talk about ‘human-first’ innovation, we mean we aim to make our consumers’ world, and the world at large, better by degrees.
Stop Hate for Profit represents a turning point in companies’ and brands’ attitudes towards their consumers. Perhaps it’s been driven through fear of profit loss, perhaps it’s been driven through a genuine concern and moral obligation to be ‘better’. Either way, big organisations and businesses are no longer happy to remain vocal but complicit. We’re on the cusp of seeing real change, driven through companies understanding and respecting the value of their consumers as people, not just as profit.
Brando Guerreri is a Consultant at Brand Genetics, a global insight and innovation agency specialising in unlocking growth by thinking human-first. Brando has experience working at The Boston Consulting Group, PepsiCo and Havas Media. His biggest passion is exploring how we leverage design effectively to increase human wellbeing and happiness.