Beyond the Boycott, Brands Must Take Responsibility For Content They Support

July 8, 2020

By Mike Henry, CEO

Money talks. In the past few weeks, advertising money has had quite a lot to say.

Influential and iconic brands seized on an opening in the national dialogue to force overdue change. They know that their collective tens of billions of ad dollars often support bad actors and bad content, and they’ve taken aim at the platforms that distribute them. Advertisers have focused most sharply on Facebook, which will perhaps make meaningful changes to the way they police their platform. 

In addition to the moves that Facebook, YouTube, Reddit and others may take in the near term, the current ad boycott has ramped up the focus on potential regulatory changes that would clarify just how much responsibility falls to a distribution platform like Facebook. This scrutiny is also long overdue, and change could be a truly bipartisan issue.

While the platforms will hopefully attempt serious remedies, and the government may finally step up on this issue, it will be up to brands themselves to ensure that they know exactly who benefits from their ad spend and whether those content creators align with their values. Before advertisers return, they will need to develop and enforce their own Content Investment Policy – a standard that connects their brand values to their media spend.


Knowing Where Your Ad Dollars Flow

Today’s boycott is about community standards – Facebook’s in particular – and how they are enforced. Advertisers think Facebook shouldn’t distribute hate speech, period. And they want Facebook to change their overall community standards.

Savvy digital marketers do understand that, beyond baseline community standards, platforms often share revenue with creators. In those cases – most notably YouTube and Facebook video – the creator gets roughly half of the ad revenue generated within their content. This model has created mountains of great content and incredible opportunities for both advertisers and creators.

It has also created a responsibility for advertisers to know who exactly is benefitting from their ad spend and whether those creators align with their values. The massive volume of content presents a complicated proposition and one that must be carefully considered. Advertisers need a Content Investment Policy to ensure their media goals are properly balanced with the mission of their company. 


Use the July Boycott to Refine a Content Investment Policy

A Content Investment Policy (CIP) is an expression of brand values. It goes beyond “brand safety” and considers the fact that ad dollars fund content. A CIP acknowledges a brand’s responsibility in the digital content landscape and serves as a framework that guides its overall media buying strategy.

So while brand dollars earmarked for social platforms are sidelined for July (or longer), here are seven things CMOs should be considering as they architect their CIP:

  1. Start with Brand Values. Every major brand has thoughtfully considered its mission and values. Centering these values at the heart of your CIP will serve as your true north.
  2. Translate Values to the Content Landscape: What content and creators does your brand want to actively support and cultivate? What content does your brand want to avoid supporting with ad dollars? Define both ends of this spectrum carefully.
  3. Make it Actionable: Understand the content targeting capabilities and limitations of each platform and ad product. Do the homework on where your ad dollars end up in every channel as you align your CIP with your broader comms strategy. 
  4. Require Full Transparency: Unambiguously, you need to understand where your ads are running, and as much as possible about the creators who take your investment and turn it into more content.
  5. Get Buy-In Across the Company: Your customers already make the link between where you advertise and your brand. Get buy-in from the top-down and across your organization. Make your CIP a corporate strategy, not another marketing silo.
  6. Stand behind Your Commitments: Only buy advertising where you can uphold your Content Investment Policy. This is not about appeasing the screen-shotters or avoiding bad PR – this is about investing in media and creators who are aligned with your organization’s values.
  7. Revise and Revisit Regularly: The pace of societal and media change is only intensifying. Re-evaluate your CIP at least quarterly. 

Media placement, informed by a Content Investment Policy, needs to come back to the core of media strategy. Let’s collectively lean into this moment to support the content we value most and create a higher quality media ecosystem in the future. 

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