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MAGNA: Despite Strides, Platforms Need To Do Better On Sustainability And Data Ethics

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Although brands typically want to spend responsibly, it’s not always clear which types of media platforms deserve their ad dollars.

Media standards are needed to help guide buyers on where to invest and help publishers and platforms do better themselves.

The “onus is on advertisers” to drive change,” said Eli Harris, EVP of global digital partnerships and media responsibility at MAGNA Global, presenting the fourth annual edition of the company’s Media Responsibility Index (MRI) at an event in New York City earlier this week.

MAGNA, the media intelligence division within IPG Mediabrands, has been publishing its media index reports since 2020 in response to widespread hateful speech online following the death of George Floyd.

The purpose is to help clients consider brand and consumer safety in their decision-making process across as many media types as possible, from large social platforms to CTV and local broadcast and cable.

Ethics, he said, should be part of the media plan.

“The MRI is not meant to punish platforms,” said Harris, who co-authored the report. “It’s meant to celebrate progress and change.”

In addition to data ethics, brand safety and inclusivity, this year’s report, which was based on surveys with 150 media partners across 15 countries, also includes a focus on sustainability.

Sustained

It wasn’t until recently that the ad tech industry started thinking about sustainability and the impact that digital advertising has on the environment.

But sustainability has quickly become a priority for ad tech companies and brands, said Harris, who noted that digital advertising now generates carbon emissions at a faster rate than the airline industry.

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Unfortunately, though, all of that talk hasn’t translated into action yet. Most of the platforms surveyed for the report fall below MAGNA’s average expectations for carbon emission reduction, Harris said.

And that’s before taking the metaverse (such as it is) into consideration. If the metaverse expands to match the hype, there’s concern about the impact it will have on emissions, he said.

But the news isn’t all doom and gloom.

Technology is emerging that aims to help companies minimize their carbon footprints. The next step is getting companies to adopt this tech into their business models and to be transparent about the results.

Privacy, please

Data ethics also requires transparency.

And that’s the case both on the technical side and the reporting side, said Sara Tehrani, VP of global digital partnerships and media responsibility at MAGNA.

There’s an imperative for companies to take action. Consumer expectations of data privacy, both internationally and in the US, is at an all-time high.

MAGNA’s report found that 74% of consumers value data privacy as much as other “social causes,” including climate change or diversity and inclusion.

But publishers MAGNA surveyed for its report were reluctant to share information with MAGNA about how their companies handle government requests for user data, including biometric health data, Tehrani said.

That reluctance is an increasingly critical concern in a post-Roe v. Wade world, Harris said.

The advertising industry needs a higher level of data transparency in order to protect consumers, Tehrani said.

Although ethics should be universal, the same rules don’t apply to all media platforms from a regulatory perspective.

There’s a big difference in the laws and regulations that traditional broadcasters are beholden to compared with digital-native CTV platforms.

MAGNA’s report this year included an evaluation of CTV publishers that started off as broadcasters (like Disney and NBCUniversal) as well as platforms that started life focused on CTV – and there’s a definitive difference between how the two types of publishers approach data and its collection.

CTV-native publishers on average scored significantly better in terms of data ethics, Tehrani said, because these companies have “highly technical proficiency” to support data collection and processing that meets modern privacy protocol.

But regardless of a platform’s origins, data ethics should be firmly top of mind, although ticking the box on regulatory compliance remains a challenge.

State-level data privacy laws are cropping up at a rapid pace, and the fragmentation in policy doesn’t help.

“Platforms are relying on regulators for a level of consistency,” Harris said, and because many platforms don’t have leadership that’s well-versed in data privacy, “they’re mostly playing catch-up.”

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