Birds Eye View

The complexity of balancing social responsibility with digital marketing goals

By Gabby Krite, Head of Digital Operations 

With the rapid ascent of digital, marketing has evolved to reach its audience with precision and efficiency like never before. A myriad of tools, platforms, and strategies await marketers, promising increased reach, higher engagement, and robust ROI. However, as the digital marketing ecosystem continues to expand and diversify, so do the challenges of integrating positive social values and corporate social responsibilities (CSR) into a company’s marketing blueprint. The goal to drive income often stands at odds with the pursuit of genuine social responsibility. But, also, the connection between those values and your digital media plan is not intuitive. At TKF, we would like to challenge the perception that prioritising social values needs to come with a cost to your business. 


Scope 3’s “The State of Sustainable Advertising: Q2 2023” report has found that “streaming brings digital ad emissions to 7.2M metric tons annually. A year of digital advertising (streaming + display) emissions are the same as 1.4 M US homes’ electricity usage yearly”. That is eye-watering and shocking to many people. It isn’t easy to envisage the carbon impact of the internet (and therefore digital advertising) as browsing on your mobile is so far removed from the output. It’s not like door drops where you have a tangible item you can easily understand the impact of. The industry has been struggling to get to grips with this. We have explored many solutions (carbon taxes, different emissions measurement partners, tree planting) and spoken to many suppliers, and we are still looking for something to hit the mark. It’s the classic behaviour you see with systemic issues. The problem is so large that it’s everyone’s responsibility; therefore, no one takes responsibility. But we have seen real movement here in the last year with suppliers like Good Net and AIDEM that are built with sustainable practices at their core. Initial testing with AIDEM shows strong results, challenging the current industry attitude that integrating sustainable media practices needs to come with an additional cost to the advertiser. If other suppliers don’t catch up, they’ll be left behind! 


Channel 4’s 2023 “Mirror on the Industry” research showed that whilst there has been improvement in representation of Black people, there has been a reduction in people of other ethnic backgrounds and no change in other groups such as people with disabilities. Minority groups are underrepresented in leading roles and still frequently heavily stereotyped. A lot of industry talk and energy has been directed towards improving inclusivity in the last five years, so it’s disheartening to see that change has been slow. With the focus on representation in creative, the conversation has been neglecting the impact of media buying in digital. Brand safety blocklists and algorithmic bias influence the flow of advertising spend in digital, and we often see minority-owned content and audiences be de-prioritised. From a moral perspective, that means that minority voices are not receiving as much ad revenue to fund quality content. From a commercial perspective, there are millions of people your brand isn’t talking to digitally. To combat this, we have solutions like Courageous, which has created an SSP that prioritises minority-owned websites so that we can be more intentional with our spend than algorithms currently allow. TKF has recently been doing its own thinking on bias in our media planning and buying and has created a run of content speaking to this point concerning the over-50s audiences. We would encourage more agencies to take time to reflect on what biases they may be bringing to the delivery of their work. 


Advertising Week 2023 hosted a presentation on “Creating Accessible Advertising”, where they highlighted that 90% of advertising is inaccessible to millions of people with hearing or visual impairments. Many of us won’t have ever considered the accessibility of our advertising – again, there is a disconnect between values and how this flows through to advertising. When you’re making a digital ad, you’ve got to create an engaging story that explains your proposition well, lands the key message in the first 3 seconds (less for social!), is optimised towards achieving your KPI, is adapted appropriately to the format and is as inclusive as possible. That’s a lot to achieve already, and I can understand why accessibility hasn’t been front of mind. However, adding ALT text and subtitles is fairly straightforward on most social platforms – this is a small change that can make a huge difference. Beyond that, the momentum in the industry is fairly new, so I expect more innovation to come in 2024.  

Future Proofing 

The industry still has a lot of work to do and in ways that are not obvious and intuitive. It’s also difficult to make change when we don’t know the full extent of the impact of our choices. With this work at TKF, we’re ensuring our clients can make informed decisions on their digital media plans and take actions that do not put their KPI targets at risk. As our society becomes more aware of these issues and puts more energy behind championing positive social change, these behavioural changes will be expected of advertisers. And the most exciting bit is that as momentum is created, more solutions will be created that will be even better than what we have now. It is our responsibility as media agencies and advertisers to be aware of and use the solutions; otherwise, change will not happen.