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Responsible Advertising – why it’s time for us all to do the right thing


From data breaches to funding platforms that permit hate speech, advertising hasn’t covered itself in glory recently. It’s time for a new KPI – one that goes beyond sales to doing our bit for society.

The reason I’m passionate about responsible advertising is that I literally feel some responsibility for the current state of the industry.

I was always a technophile. My father wrote the first book about BASIC computer language and taught me to code when I was just a kid. When the first tech bubble burst, I was an intern at living the start-up dream. I put one of P&G’s first display campaigns on air in 2003. I conducted the first global study on ‘Facebook fans’ in 2010 for Ad Age. I spent years evangelising about digital to clients as if it were a new religion.

2016 seriously dampened my enthusiasm with the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the election of Donald Trump. But the past two years has really made me question what kind of impact my job is having on society.

In March 2020 a lot of advertisers started drastically cutting their ad spend, while block-listing any words related to the pandemic. That had a direct impact on journalists getting laid off at a time where we needed the free press the most.

In July 2020, Trump’s calls to hate brought a reckoning on the need to better define hate speech on social media platforms. It led a lot of advertisers to pause their social media investment and work with the Global Alliance for Responsible Media1 (GARM, a cross-industry initiative set up by the World Federation of Advertisers), to clarify the definition of hate speech with the media platforms. The Capitol Riots on 6 January 2021 showed us that the guardrails we had started to put in place were clearly not going to be enough. Then came the spread of misinformation on COVID vaccination.

For me, the straw that broke the camel’s back was Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s testimony on the regular staff meetings she attended where Facebook’s teams shared their struggles to stop posts that compared certain ethnic groups to insects, a precursor to violence and in the most extreme cases genocide, dehumanizing minorities as it does.

I believe 2022 must be the year for us as a media industry to start taking responsibility for how our planning and buying choices impact society. It’s time we rethink and reset our media strategies to reflect our brand and company values.

– It’s always been our job to build attention for our brands through quality context. We got so seduced by ad-tech that we seem to have forgotten about that along the way. It’s time to get choosier about where our brands appear.

We need to fund quality journalism and inclusive and diversity-owned content by reviewing our word block-listing approach and our media investment choices. At Danone, we are shifting parts away from big platforms towards partners who support quality journalism, and with GroupM have pledged to invest a minimum 2% of our investments in black-owned media in the US.

We need to reduce the carbon footprint of our advertising instead of airing green-washing campaigns.

– At Danone we believe we need to deserve our consumer’s data and build a real value exchange with them. Every brand needs to build a long-term ethical approach to data and privacy.

The platforms have a lot of work to do to make responsible advertising a reality – but it is not their responsibility alone, it’s ours too. We all have a role to play in shaping not just our industry, but the society we want to live in.

Catherine Lautier, Global Head of Media, Danone


1 GroupM is a founding member of GARM

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