Good-Loop Sustainable Transformation Agency Leadership

After an ‘identity crisis,’ profit is within sight for green adtech startup Good-Loop

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By Sam Bradley, Senior Reporter

March 7, 2024 | 8 min read

The sustainable media brand was rocked by tough trading conditions and rising opposition to inclusive marketing investment last year. We speak to founder Amy Williams about how it pushed through.

Amy Williams of Good-Loop

Amy Williams of Good-Loop / Good-Loop

After years of tentative private-sector campaigning, corporate social purpose efforts now face significant opposition from politicians, media observers and, in some cases, shareholder activists.

Brands that previously invested in purpose marketing or that backed ad campaigns that claimed to be social movements are now under more pressure to prove the worth of those efforts to the bottom line. Combined with last year’s UK recession and the knock-on effects of Silicon Valley’s spending slowdown, increased caution regarding social purpose investments among marketers combined to make last year the toughest in business yet for adtech startup Good-Loop.

Founded by Amy Williams and Daniel Winterstein in 2016, Good-Loop provides adtech products that redirect media cash spent by advertisers toward charities and niche publishers. Initially, that meant a single product – a skippable ad unit that offered audiences an option: skip the ad or watch to the end and guarantee a charitable donation. In 2020, as demand for products that could help brands meet sustainability targets increased, it launched a carbon calculator. In 2023, Good-Loop had funneled around £7m of media buys towards charities. It expanded properly into the United States, which came to provide a major share of its revenue; Williams soon moved across the Atlantic.

While turnover rose, so did the complexity of managing the business. “We had a bit of an identity crisis, if I’m honest,” says Williams.

“Measuring carbon is not the same as funding charities. It’s a different customer, a different buying model – it’s much more complicated. I remember going to Cannes Lions that year and feeling nervous – I didn’t know which product to talk about when I bumped into someone or when I had three minutes on the Croisette. It felt like I was running two companies.”

2023 began promisingly. But, similarly to agency businesses and other marketing services firms, Good-Loop experienced a sudden change in fortunes.

“We were planned in on lots of budgets and then those budgets were cut or pulled back,” recalls Williams. The normal rhythm of the marketing year halted for the first time in Good-Loop’s history, skipping the beats that might otherwise have helped it through. “We weren’t seeing the same peaks and troughs that we’ve seen for the last six years – it was a flat line.”

Amid concerns over made-for-advertising sites (and their environmental footprint), Good-Loop began offering ‘Good Packages’ technology that allowed media buyers to push investments towards publishers in social-good niches or that didn’t already run lots of digital ads. By redirecting investment to “the cleanest, greenest, lightest publishers,” advertisers would reach audiences and directly fund the kind of journalism that often struggles for support. Williams says the intention was to provide marketers “different ways to take action, whether you want to measure or buy greener.”

Marisa Thomas, then in the first year of her role as Good-Loop’s chief marketing officer, says caution from brands previously committed to purpose marketing played a role in that slowdown. “Brands that had long histories in cause-related marketing were really pulling back because of a fear of being canceled,” she says. ”Things have become more polarized. It was a double whammy.”

Williams adds: “The nervousness around entering a culture war, of being called out, is really palpable among our clients. We’ve seen a lot of brands treading really carefully.”

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In September, inevitably, several redundancies followed. “We are a venture-backed growth startup,” says Williams. “We aren’t self-sustaining; our whole model has intentionally been to raise investment and use that investment to invest in growth. That money allowed us to invest in the US, it has allowed us to build two new product streams, and those things kept us going. An investor-led model doesn’t mean you have an end date; it means you have a runway – and then you have the end of your runway.”

The experience was bruising. The year “took its toll,” says Williams. Over Christmas, co-founder and chief technology officer Winterstein decided to leave, putting Williams in sole charge of the business for the first time.

She has used it as a chance to double down on the pivots made by Good-Loop in 2023. The company, now numbering 38 employees, is split between New York, London and its Edinburgh headquarters and pushes its products as part of a wider, social justice-aligned package for marketers. “There’s intersectionality to climate issues,” says Williams. “It’s about good for business, good for the planet and good for the people that live on it.

“The measurement technology that we’re building, it’s the next frontier of ad verification, of brand safety.”

Ad hoardings featuring Good-Loop's new branding

The firm rebranded – something Williams says she wasn’t easily sold on – but the company had been using a corporate identity she’d cooked up on a home laptop seven years earlier. “In a year where sales are struggling, the economy’s down, there’s a recession in our major market, sales aren’t hitting targets… then investing in a rebrand is very counterintuitive. It’s very scary.”

The new visual identity was created by branding agency Hato. “I had to justify it to my board; I had to justify it to myself.” She came around. “A rebrand gives you a new point of view and a new reason to be in the room. And it has already paid for itself.”

There are bricks behind the plasterwork. It has hired an interim CTO in former Integral Ad Science founder Will Luttrell, added industry veteran Peter Land as a non-executive advisor and reshuffled its leadership team. And, having come near to the edge of the runway in 2023, it’s close to take-off. Profitability is five months away, says Williams.

She and Thomas say that the nervousness among marketers previously bullish on purpose work – and the confidence of its critics – has, despite its cost, given Good-Loop a new reason to be in the room. “We see our role as helping advocate for that,” says Thomas.

Williams adds: “Marketers’ jobs matter because they spend millions of dollars every day and how they spend that money shapes the world. If we use the industry in the right way, then it’s something we should all be proud of.”

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