2019: the year of heightened brand accountability

2019: the year of heightened brand accountability

2 minute read

Brands are waking up to their responsibilities in both the digital and natural ecosystem, says WFA CEO Stephan Loerke.

Article details

  • Author:Stephan Loerke
    CEO, WFA
13 December 2019

This year has been a turning point for the role of brands in the digital ecosystem. Many big brands have woken up to their part, as funders of the digital ecosystem, in a landscape that has too often been letting them and society down.

More than two years of scandal, during which online platforms were regularly hijacked by bad actors, came to a head on March 15th with the horrific attacks on two mosques in Christchurch. The attacks were livestreamed on Facebook for 17 minutes by the gunman and shared millions of times.

The mood at the WFA Global Marketer Week the same month in Lisbon was one of anger and frustration. The WFA urged its members to reflect on the way in which they funded the platforms and technology that allows such incidents to occur.

It became more than just an issue of brand safety and marketers began to understand that they had a moral responsibility to hold platforms to account.

Out of the ashes of the Christchurch attacks emerged the seeds of the Global Alliance for Responsible Media, which was officially launched at Cannes. GARM members – who include many of the world’s biggest brands – understand that collaboration is needed to make the online environment safe, trustworthy and sustainable. That may have been true before but now brands understood that they need to be the ones leading this effort.

My gut feeling, however, is that this only scratches the surface of what society now expects brands to be accountable for. This year, Extinction Rebellion arrived in Cannes and 16-year-old girl called Greta Thunberg accusing world leaders of stealing her future was named Person of The Year by Time magazine

In November, I sat amongst over 300 industry leaders in Berlin at the annual summit of our German association (OWM) and listened to an 18-year-old Clara Mayer of Fridays for Future challenging brands on their sustainability credentials. I confess that it only dawned on me then the scale of disruption that lies ahead.

Society now demands that brands are no longer simply about growth at any costs. We must reconcile our profession with the need for a sustainable future.

Of course, this isn’t new to many of our members, who have been making significant efforts to drive sustainable growth. But it is a tough one for the marketing industry, traditionally seen as a driver of consumption, to address.

The good news is that marketers are now listening to what society is saying. We are getting more requests from members than ever before about sustainability in marketing. To answer those big questions, many brands are going to have to find some bold and innovative answers that could mean radically transforming their business models.

But isn’t this what marketers are good at? As an industry we have a lot to lose, but critically so much to gain, if we embrace this challenge head on in the next decade.