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Calling on the advertising industry to save the world - are we ready for the tough conversations?

Sue Fennessy

April 19,2021

I have spent a lifetime obsessed by the belief that brands have the power to positively change the world. Unlike many of my old uni friends who believed that all corporations are evil, I am a ‘glass half full’ girl and always felt that the power companies had, could be positively influenced by the even greater ‘power of the people’ in order to solve the world’s biggest problems. After all, most companies depend on humanity for their survival, so it is pretty simple - brands do good, people support brands that use their money and muscle for the good of the world, and more people support them. It gives me hope that we have 2 entire generations - millennials and Gen Z supporting brands to do the right thing. The explosion of the beautiful corporate B-corp structure has also raised the standard for every company to ‘hard code’ ‘people and purpose’ at the heart of their organisations. 

I am really inspired to see all the ‘good’ that large companies are doing, with real commitments to sustainable sourcing, ethical supply chains and more inclusive corporate policies. But for most of the fortune 500 companies, they spend more on advertising than they do on other parts of their business and it is still shockingly opaque with questions around effectiveness, waste and advertising supply chain ethics. 

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Even those industries that I think should be eradicated, like crude oil, tobacco and firearms should be held accountable to the masses - not just shareholders and governments. I believe that the advertising industry has the real power to solve the world's biggest problems,  but we will only enable this, if, as an industry,  we are prepared to unpack and address the real problems in our sector and start openly discussing them. After all, it is always stated that 50% of ad distribution is waste - we just don’t know which half. So, theoretically, if we can eliminate the waste, and redirect 50% of a 550 Billion dollar industry, we can economically empower millions of people and make significant global impact. Sadly, I have seen all the stats that show how the wealth of the 0.01% could help everyone on the planet, but the reality is they are just not sharing, so it is too risky waiting for them.

Unpacking the problems in the advertising industry is controversial because it may highlight the fragility of the metrics that underpin the entire industry and deployment of 550 billion dollars globally.  We are also likely to ruffle the feathers of the 2 power brokers -  Google and Facebook. If I did not think that addressing this would help billions of people and help enable the reversal of climate change, I would not challenge the status quo. But it is the only way forward that I can see and we need to hold them accountable. 

At the heart of the change we are advocating is putting people at the economic centre of digital media. The most glaring vulnerability of the advertising industry is that people are the ultimate target and yet all the money goes into the hands of the big tech companies. People receive little to no value from the exchange. The media industry is the epitome of the great wealth divide and I believe it is the starting point for us closing the gap between the 1% and the 99%. 

Over the next few months, through my blogs and changemaker interviews, I want to get scientific and real on the following topics and invite you to send me any that you think we should cover. Get in touch.

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