‘Be inclusive, not exclusive’: why brands need to embrace conscious advertising on social video

The growth in social video audiences is reaching new heights, propelled by new formats and innovation. YouTube Shorts has topped 5 trillion views. And YouTube is also working on making viewing more immersive in terms of interactions with games and virtual experiences.

But this growth and experimentation comes with a high level of responsibility towards audiences and advertisers. With this in mind, Channel Factory partnered with The Drum for a panel session exploring how advertisers can make optimal use of social video by following best practice and aligning themselves with content that is truly diverse and inclusive.

Rob Blake, UK managing director at Channel Factory; Anne Stilling, global director brand and media, Vodafone; and Alexis Faulkner, chief digital officer, Mindshare, joined Jenni Baker, assistant editor, The Drum, to discuss these issues and consider how an approach that embraces the principles of “conscious advertising” will drive better results for brands on social video platforms.

Customized approaches to brand safety

The panel opened with an exploration of the need for better education on the big issues that surround brand safety on social media channels. Blake explained how advertisers can best avoid misaligned content, focusing initially on the importance of differentiating between brand safety and brand suitability, noting that “brand suitability is an evolution of brand safety, taking it towards a custom approach for a brand and an agency to have a much more effective use of data to target a contextual audience.”

He described how Channel Factory has worked on research with major agency groups, which shows not only the erosion of brand favorability among potential new customers, but also “existing ones when they see that you're not aligning with their belief systems”.

The research found that misaligned content diminished the impact of otherwise hardworking ads, with purchase intent (-8%), brand respect (-9%) and brand trust (-6%) down compared to standard content. And, the impact on perceptions of brand thoughtfulness (-10%) and caring about customers (-7%) diminished when next to misaligned content. Many people felt brands who had ads in misaligned content “leaves a bad memory attached to the brand”.

Mindshare's Faulkner said it's important to speak with individual brands about this: “We've got to bring that up to a strategic conversation with our clients to really understand what is suitable for their business, what are their risk tolerances, and what's their understanding of how they want to approach things. So the first thing we do is try and run workshops to understand what they actually think.”

Faulkner added that the agency has found block lists to be a “very blunt tool” in delivering brand safety and how indiscriminate blocking of certain words or terms meant “not funding content about important topics to society” such as climate change, gender issues, or LGBT+ rights.

As a result, Mindshare has worked with specific clients as much as possible to include “a series of words we don't believe should be on a block list. And we'll challenge our clients and have conversations to make sure we can agree on that together.”

Collaboration with brands

Vodafone's Stilling spoke about the challenges advertisers face in terms of balancing diversity, inclusivity and sustainability, with the need for brand safety and suitability.

She said: “As a brand, you need to accept that you lose a bit of the 100% control with regards to brand safety. So you very much have to rely on technology and what happens out there. But, at the same time, I think we take a much more holistic approach nowadays than we did probably a few years ago.”

The solution at Vodafone, Stilling explained, has included working with media partners on worldwide audits to see how closely they match the brand’s values on inclusion and diversity. She added: “The second bit is the whole thing around what is the right context where we want to appear. And, hopefully, we see a lot more technology and intelligence kicking in there.”

The role of conscious advertising

Blake touched on Channel Factory’s own initiative ‘The Conscious Project’, which highlights the importance of brands advertising in diverse and inclusive environments.

“I think advertisers have a moral responsibility with conscious advertising to help educate the younger generation; for instance, if they see ads just being placed within a context of content that isn't aligned to their interpretation of the world, and how it has an impact,” he said.

Stilling issued a warning from the advertiser perspective: “If you don't take these steps into more conscious advertising communication, but also more sustainable media, the whole system will implode on itself.”

The discussion moved on to how a combination of human understanding and machine learning can help optimize an advertiser's application of conscious advertising by identifying the channels and content that best fit with its brand values, and the important role that agencies play in ensuring platforms and vendors are accountable in terms of the information they provide.

Regulating social video

Thoughts progressed to the thorny issue of regulation, with both the UK Online Safety Bill and the EU Digital Markets Act set to become law. While Blake acknowledged the need for some regulation to “protect our younger generation from bad content”, he urged governments to be inclusive in their consultation with players in advertising and media to avoid “misunderstanding” the types of content that should be blocked.

Finally, the panel offered their suggestions for steps that could make the social video space safer, more diverse and inclusive for advertisers. Stilling urged the whole industry to “take more conscious decisions on how our ecosystem in future should work”. To help achieve this, she asked for greater levels of standardization.

Faulkner identified the need to educate consumers towards a greater appreciation of advertising's role in funding online content, and “make sure that we're really thinking about how we impact on consumers and their experience”.

And Blake concluded the session with an encouraging point for brands advertising on social video channels: “Go into this with your eyes wide open, but don't be scared to act. Be conscious and inclusive – not exclusive.”

You can watch the full panel discussion here.