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'We can be catalysts for change': what 4 marketers learned from addressing the UN

The group addressed the UN in December, but say the industry can learn from their experience

It isn’t every day that a group of British marketers get a chance to address the United Nations (UN). However, a delegation from the Conscious Advertising Network (CAN) recently did just that, marking a significant "milestone" for the UK ad industry in how it engages with external global changemakers.

CAN is an independent body with other 80 partners and it seeks to clean up the ad ecosystem by stopping its digital eco-system from funding abusive content online.

On 18 December 2019, a CAN delegation, comprising: Jake Dubbins, the co-founder of CAN; Amir Malik, Accenture Interactive; Tracy Tracy De Groose, chief executive of Newsworks; and Jerry Daykin, EMEA senior media director for GSK - discussed the role advertising plays in funding fake news as well as the spread of hate speech, particularly when it comes to having an anti-immigration stance.

The group also looked at what steps can be taken to improve brand safety, and what different nations can do to aim for a brighter future when it comes to digital advertising.

Dubbins has spoken at the UN once before, but he says the fact CAN was invited to address the UN’s forum of business for human rights indicates that the marketing industry is headed in the right direction.

“It feels like a real milestone,” he said, alongside the other three members of the UN delegation, in a new podcast from The Drum reflecting on the experience. “There’s a lot of marketers who don’t fully understand how the programmatic eco-system works, as they just leave it to a third party, or the fact they are inadvertently funding hate online. By speaking to UN officials, we were able to swap our experiences in a really compelling way.”

He added: “Right or wrong, we can shine a light on how the internet is funded, and the UN can show us marketers how our world is negatively affecting people on the front line. It’s about combining forces to ensure we cut out harmful content and protect free speech. We want the UK advertising industry to be real catalysts for change and this is a positive step in that direction.”

According to Malik, CAN has already been responsible for hate preaching sites having their programmatic SSPs disabled while stopping controversial far-right figures like Tommy Robinson from being able to monetise their content by appearing next to brand advertising online.

“It was a good chance to show the UN that we’re really trying to clean up the advertising industry,” Mailk added. “We want to improve the infrastructure, whether that’s around mar-tech or adtech, and show that as long as brands and advertisers have money to spend on online advertising, they are able to influence that supply and change it for the better.”

Dubbins admits the experience was a little daunting at first: “We had someone on the UN panel who prosecuted Ratko Mladic at The Hague and you tend to get like five questions thrown at you at once, which can be a little terrifying.” Yet De Groose says that although the experience was incredibly formal, the fact it happened at the UN added a gravitas to the debate and gave it the right kind of platform to be aired.

“The language that they use is a little jarring at first,” she admitted. “It’s stuff like “we now call for an intervention from the floor”. You have these little mics and you push a button to speak. It is a very formal structure, but that added a real importance to the discussion and really formalised it.”

GSK’s Daykin, who was also part of the delegation, hopes this kind of discussion will ultimately inspire marketers to consider the impact of the digital eco-system more carefully and the ways in which the advertising industry can make much more of a positive social impact.

“Being at UN is going to create a really positive shift [which will see] marketers take diversity, fake news and brand safety really seriously. This talk was about exploring how we all get to a situation where we consciously think of how to create high-quality advertising placements and driving marketing effectiveness that has a positive impact on society, rather than pushing those things to the side.”

Looking ahead to the future, Dubbins has called for more marketers and brands to support CAN and change the perception of marketing for the better.

He concluded: “We have over 80 members right now, which includes civil society groups, charities, unions and pressure groups, but if we can get an additional five to 10 big advertisers to care about CAN then it will really help clean up this industry. But this isn’t just about the advertising industry, but creating a world where human safety is more assured. This is just the beginning.”

You can listen to the full conversation via this podcast, which was recorded by in Publicis' Prodigious recording studio in London here or by clicking the box above.

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