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Tom DenfordMar 09, 20234 min read

The 5 Ways You Need to be More Ethical in Media

Brands Deserve Better Media

A weekly column from @tomjdenford



Marketers care about how agencies and their supply chains conduct their businesses.

Advertising is a unique industry. You don’t have to achieve an Ivy League qualification to have great ideas and you don’t need a degree to see breakthrough opportunities for brands. But that’s also a potential weakness. Because unlike other major global industries like medicine, finance, law and accounting, it has no agreed professional standards of ethics or regulation. 


So it comes as no surprise that, according to the latest Ipsos Trustworthiness Index, advertising is regarded as one of the least trusted professions by the public while at the same time, marketers themselves are struggling to grasp the full complexity of their own digital supply chains.


I think it is time for the industry to seriously embrace advertising ethics, to reassure both clients and consumers that when under pressure, we will make the right decisions. What that ethical standard should include is clearly a matter for some debate but as consumers demand more of brands, brands will demand more of their agencies and the media supply chain.


In an industry that has been so tarnished by challenges to its integrity and transparency, now is the right time for us to support an industry-wide commitment to independent ethical standards. 


In the meantime, there are 5 actions we can all take.


1 - Make ethics part of the agency selection process

For more than a decade, ethics has been a part of the pitch brief; touching on working regulations, environmental stewardship, business integrity and so on. Now is the time to extend those criteria to cover the media supply chain and the ethical professional standards in their partner companies. These might include, for example, asking for ethical certification amongst staff and requiring compliance to agreed ethical standards.


2 - Get accreditation for your teams

Agencies are already accredited for their ability to improve supply chain transparency, the provenance of data and an openness to independent audit, so some kind of ethical standard will ultimately be essential for our industry. The Institute For Advertising Ethics (IAE), an independent non-profit dedicated to improving ethical standards in advertising, now provides the first professional certification in ethics to the advertising community – covering agencies and suppliers – via its Certified Ethical Advertising Executive (CEAE) program. 


3 - Address the supply chain

Delivering on the ethical needs of brands requires an agency and publisher ecosystem that can also be part of the solution, we do see many taking steps in this area, via responsible investment frameworks for example, but there are plenty of other areas that need work, notably the confusing and complex data supply chain.


4 - Learn from others in the industry

There are some great examples of people who are trying to make our industry more ethical and get ahead of regulatory pressure. The World Federation of Advertisers, for example, has published a helpful report into data ethics. This goes beyond looking at what rules have to be complied with and asks brands to establish an ethical framework that guides all their interactions with customer data and their data supply chain. 


5 - Reassure younger talent

We need to let the brightest and the best know that advertising, particularly digital advertising, is a place where they can be proud to work. We owe it to the great young talent we are asking to follow in our footsteps that we together make this industry one to be proud of. We need to empower a generation of ethical advertising executives – encouraging people who can turn ethical frameworks into actionable steps, leaders who can help organizations detect and mitigate ethical risks and professionals who will communicate effectively about ethical challenges.


The good news is that we can all encourage each other to raise standards. Being ethical – and being able to demonstrate that fact – might also help us improve our standing as a profession. 


I am a proud member of the IAE and sit on its advisory board. I believe that the future of advertising is ethical and the most ethical thing you can do right now is get yourself and your teams professionally certified


Ultimately, ethical standards will appear more frequently in agency scopes of work and contracts in the same way as tests for diversity, equity and inclusion are now an accepted part of the selection process. It won’t be long before this becomes a business imperative as marketers are increasingly asking to look into the ethical supply chain of marketing and media. At that point, perhaps those agency partners that can best demonstrate their ethics, aligned with the advertiser, will be most successful in future pitches.


Advertisers want to work with external partners and a supply chain that they can trust and that they share values with. When those relationships are rooted in strong ethical principles they are likely to be more productive and last longer.


This great industry exists to work in service of the brands we love. It is in everybody's interests to align on better professional standards. Because when brands get the partners they deserve, they grow.


When brands flourish, we all win.





This blog post was originally published by MediaPost in 'The Future of Advertising is Ethics' 


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