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DEI, sustainability and AI: Key themes from WFA Global Marketer Week 2023

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May 31, 2023 | 4 min read

In last year’s review of the WFA Global Marketer Week conference held in Athens, I pointed out three main themes from the event: Creativity and inspiration, sustainability, and the hot topic of the time, the metaverse

In last year’s review of the WFA Global Marketer Week conference held in Athens, I pointed out three main themes from the event: Creativity and inspiration, sustainability, and the hot topic of the time, the metaverse.

From comparing this with the 2023 agenda in Istanbul, it’s evident some things have changed, and others have stayed the same.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has swept aside the metaverse as the technology topic du jour, and rightly so. While some are setting up AI-powered advertising agencies, others are grappling with intellectual property and copyright challenges. The general feeling is that we are at the beginning of a very steep and transformational learning curve.

Gone were the discussions around creativity and innovation, which I thought a pity considering their pivotal importance to our industry. And sustainability and DEI issues permeated most of the conference topics.

DEI

It was evident in most of the presentations that diversity, equality and inclusivity has become an essential element to be take very seriously when delivering content to audiences, particularly younger folks. Get it wrong at your peril.

One of the keynote speakers from Anheuser Busch cancelled at the last moment, just as the controversy surrounding the brand hiring trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney to promote the company's Bud Light beer brand during March Madness kicked off. The video triggered major backlash from American conservatives.

Almost all case studies and creative examples were sensitive to DEI.

Cristina Diezhandino, chief marketing officer of Diageo, explained how the company has achieved a more diverse and inclusive creative leadership through a model of inclusion, creativity and purpose. Turning ‘return on investment’ into ‘return on inclusion’.

Sustainability

The overall message around this hot topic was that while more is being done, it’s still not enough.

Marketers are still not tackling sustainability issue with effective solutions.

Even the carbon footprint of flying delegates from all over the world to attend the conference itself came under question.

A panel of luminaries debated ‘whether marketers should focus on company, not consumer behaviour change’. In my view this is not the decision of a marketer but one for the board of each company. Without board encouragement, companies will always remain slaves to quarterly earnings.

Let’s remember that marketing is a tool and can only drive legitimate sustainability if product R&D, manufacturing supply chains coordinate around sustainability.

“There is pressure on brands and marketers to respond to increasing consumer expectations for sustainable choices. We have an important role to play to make sustainable choices simple and preferred by the consumer," said Conny Braams, chief digital and commercial officer, Unilever.

There are opportunities to realise more sustainable practices in the media industry. According to Scope3, programmatic advertising generates 215,000 metric tons of carbon emissions each month across five major global economies.

Brian O’Kelley, co-founder and CEO said that, “by changing the way we configure the trillions of auctions that match advertisers with ad placements, we can dramatically reduce the energy consumption of the process.”

WFA CEO, Stephan Loerke added: “Marketers recognized the need for greater harmonization of metrics and KPIs are required across industry – including those being developed with AdNetZero for counting the carbon cost of media.”

Glaring omissions

For me, an item that was obvious by its absence and both relevant and crucial to all attendees was the issue of human resources and ‘the great resignation’.

Since Covid this phenomenon has wrought havoc on marketer teams and their agencies. Whether the cause or effect of this phenomenon, we know that mental health is becoming a crucial aspect deserving of senior level attention in our organizations.

Staff churn has always been an issue in our industry but it seems more so now. Not only must we do better to retain our talent, but we also need to create working environments conducive to happier work experiences among new entrants and seasoned veterans alike.

As pointed out in our recent study covering more than 280 client-agency team winners of effectiveness awards, happier people make better teams, and better teams have an above average chance of creating effectiveness award winning work.

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