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Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen. Picture by Pedro Nunes/Reuters
November 21 2021 02:30 AM
As COP26 got under way in Glasgow earlier this month, the global advertising community took stock of what it could do to help mitigate the worst effects of climate change. Given that the advertising industry was one of the engines that powered consumerism and consumption in the past, it also has a very important role to play in the future.
While various professional advertising and marketing trade bodies around the world organised their own conferences and webinars to coincide with COP26, the UK-based but pan-European organisation called the Conscious Advertising Network (CAN) fired off a petition to the leading social media companies calling on them to stamp out climate misinformation which, it alleged, is rampant on their platforms.
While some of this misinformation was being spread by the usual crackpot climate deniers, it has become increasingly clear that more sophisticated actors have started to use these platforms to advertise and peddle their views, most of which start with the premise that climate change is one big fat hoax.
Research carried out by Stop Funding Heat, a group which is concerned about how some media outlets, wittingly or unwittingly, reinforce these views, shows that many of these ads had appeared on Facebook in the months leading up to COP26. In other words, CAN argues Facebook had profited from publishing misinformation and its AI-powered gate-keeping processes had failed to detect it.
Now, where have we heard this before?
If we re-wind a few weeks to early October, Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager-turned-whistleblower, opened-up a can of worms for the platform when she claimed the company put profits before public good. She also claimed “the version of Facebook that exists today is tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world”. Possibly the most damaging allegation she made, however, was that the company was aware of the damage Instagram was causing to teen mental health and wellbeing yet did nothing to rectify it.
Haugen is by no means the first person to have a go at Facebook and she certainly won’t be the last. Cyber-psychologists, former founders and investors, politicians and presidents, suicide prevention experts, data protection authorities and civil rights organisations have all had reason to complain about Facebook at some stage over the last 10 years. One voice that has been conspicuously absent from the debate is the advertising industry.
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Apart from the recent petition by CAN and two separate and temporary boycotts – in 2020 to coincide with the Stop Funding Hate initiative and in 2019 after it livestreamed the Christchurch mass-murder – the advertising industry has largely refrained from passing any kind of judgment on Facebook. This is quite extraordinary for an industry that constantly dines out on social purpose and talks a lot about authenticity and transparency. Could it be that the two are co-dependent on each other to such an extent that both have a lot to lose?
On the one hand Facebook is almost wholly dependent on advertising. In 2020, for example, it generated $84.2bn (€74.2bn) from advertising alone. That’s a lot of advertisers and advertising agencies which it is beholden to.
Indeed many of the large international advertising networks, consultancies and their subsidiaries are also beholden to the digital platforms like Facebook and Google. In fact, it would be hard to find an international network or consultancy group that doesn’t count Facebook, Google or one of the other digital platforms or their subsidiaries as a client.
So, not only are these digital giants the recipients of the substantial investment that is made in advertising, but they are also big spenders when it comes to marketing and advertising their own wares. Knowing which side its bread is buttered on, is it any wonder that the advertising industry has kept relatively schtum for so long?
Frances Haugen’s recent revelations about Facebook, however, have been likened by many to a Big Tobacco moment. It’s an apt analogy. Surely the advertising industry must know what comes next?
Allianz has appointed Mark Brennan as its new head of marketing with responsibility for both its business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) operations. Brennan joins the company from AIB where he was also head of marketing. He has also worked with the bank’s subsidiary EBS where he was head of brand while he has also chalked up some experience working for leading London-based agencies Tribal DDB and adam&eve.
Following a busy few months on the pitching front, Omnicom Media Group has picked up the media buying, planning and SEO account for the IAG-owned Aer Lingus while BBDO Dublin has picked up the creative account for the online broker Chill Insurance.
Omnicom takes over from the Dentsu-owned Carat while up until recently Chill Insurance has been managing its own advertising and marketing in-house.
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