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‘Binary opt-ins no longer sustainable’: a look at GroupM and Unilever’s Data Ethics Compass


By John McCarthy | Media editor

February 2, 2021 | 4 min read

WPP’s media buying arm GroupM has unveiled a tool that encourages the ethical use of data as it looks to spend client money in a less risky and intrusive manner.


A new tool from GroupM measures the ethics of its data use

Working with FMCG titan Unilever, it has developed the Data Ethics Compass to signpost the impact the use of data can have on consumers and the world around them.

What it does

  • The Data Ethics Compass is a global web app that scores data use to encourage ethical advertising.

  • It will inform buyers of the “ethical risk level of data assets”, to society and to the privacy of web users.

  • Data collection is becoming more pivotal to big campaigns, but regulation is inbound that will clamp down on certain data use. The tool will rank the ’risk’ involved.

  • It was created to remove subjectivity from ethical decisions in the buying process and make the wider approach more consistent.

  • It is supposed to help buyers see their campaign through the consumer’s lens.

  • The tool can be applied during the strategy and planning process of any campaign.

  • WPP says it handles $63bn of media spend a year, and the tool could redefine how a huge chunk of the market is distributed.

Working with Unilever

  • The tool has been developed with help from Unilever and sister agency Mindshare.

  • Nicola McCormick, GroupM general counsel, says: “The burgeoning of privacy protection laws around the world reflects the widespread consumer demand to have the interests of the individual paramount in considerations concerning data usage.”

  • She adds that ethics ranked three-times more important to company trust than competence, and that “binary decisions taken on whether data is ‘opted in’ or not are no longer sustainable in our industry”.

  • Krystal Olivieri, GroupM’s global senior vice-president for data strategy and partnerships, says more heed needs to be taken to data sources. “Even though you have access to certain data, it doesn’t mean you should always use it. We have an obligation as an industry to re-establish an appropriate balance.” And with Google looking to retire the third-party cookie, marketers will soon lose a stream of that scrupulously gathered third-party data.

  • They will instead have to lean into new solutions that achieve consumer consent, either by whatever Google is cooking up, by working directly with publishers that attract big audiences, or by communicating directly with consumers for zero-party data.

  • Jennifer Gardiner, Unilever’s senior director of media, says the tool shows her company’s commitment to “creating a responsible digital ecosystem”. She warns that consumers are much less trusting of digital advertising and this launch will show that the company takes these challenges seriously.

Alex Steer, chief data officer at Wunderman Thompson EMEA, wrote on the topic of ethics in media buying last week, looking at how the dissolution of the third-party cookie changes the game.

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