Modern Marketing Marketing & the Marginalized Adtech

IBM and WPP lead a cross-industry group seeking to tackle bias in adtech

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By Chris Sutcliffe | Senior reporter

June 20, 2022 | 5 min read

A number of marketing industry giants are banding together to tackle the endemic issues of bias in adtech.

IBM, WPP, Mindshare, 4A’s, IAB and the Ad Council are among the founding members of the group, which is seeking to raise awareness of and provide tools to eradicate bias from advertising.

“While the risk of bias in advertising is well known, by making this commitment, these organizations are among the first in the industry to take action,” said Bob Lord, IBM senior vice-president of The Weather Company and Alliances. “Together, we are agreeing to educate ourselves and our companies and ask other industry leaders to join us in helping to mitigate bias in advertising.”

The initiative seeks to prevent human biases spilling into adtech AI

The initiative seeks to prevent human biases spilling over into adtech / Alexander Sinn

The initiative, announced at the Cannes Lions festival today (June 20), builds upon research work by IBM, which found that it is possible to use data and artificial intelligence (AI) tools to mitigate some of the worst impacts of bias. In order to do so across the industry, IBM is providing an open-source toolkit to the members of the initiative. Its Advertising Toolkit for AI Fairness 360 – an open-source solution deploying 75 fairness metrics and 13 algorithms – is designed to help identify and mitigate biases in discrete data sets. A playbook and sample code have also been made available.

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Mark Read, chief executive of WPP, said: “Used correctly, data can help brands personalize consumer engagement and identify the most relevant touchpoints. However, we know that bias can exist in algorithms or technology, and that’s why we’re helping our clients to evaluate how and when to use data in a meaningful way that will benefit the customer experience.”

According to Salesforce’s 2022 State of the Connected Customer survey, nearly 62% of consumers surveyed reported they are concerned about bias in AI, up from just 54% two years prior. This emphasizes the imperative for brands and agencies to better understand its impacts.

The initiative is an acknowledgment that the marketing industry needs to do more to tackle issues around bias and representation. While some surface-level progress has been made, the industry is still grappling with unconscious bias among its practitioners, which in turn is reflected in the AI and data tools they use.

The initiative also acknowledges that there is a commercial imperative to addressing bias: close to $1tn was spent on digital advertising globally in 2021, but the programmatic tools used to target consumers would sometimes miss large groups in the process. As a result, the initiative believes that tapping into alternative privacy-forward data sources – including weather data – can be “effective predictors of behavior that could also help rebuild trust with consumers.”

Emmakate Young, Delta’s managing director of brand marketing, added: “As a global brand, we know that every decision we make, whether it’s about a supplier, an employee or an ad campaign, is a reflection of our values and the change we want to see in the world. We’ve long been focused on inclusive representation in our campaign creative. This effort allows us to go a step further to bring more inclusive representation to our campaign delivery.”

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