Digital advertising has a duty to help consumers make sustainability decisions


As part of The Drum’s deep dive into digital advertising, Poppy Mason-Watts (VP ​​of Marketing and Communications at WaterBear Network) examines how brands need to go beyond showcasing their own values ​​and give their public the means to act for themselves.

In the ultra-competitive world of digital marketing, brands’ response to ensuring the biggest budget doesn’t always win has long been depth of engagement. We’re all looking for content that sticks with our audience, and so a company’s digital footprint really needs to bring its story to life in a memorable way to keep it in the game. is not a guarantee of success today.

It is now a non-negotiable expectation among consumers that brands do good; indeed almost a third of consumers would abandon certain brands due to concerns about their ethical or sustainability behaviors. Brands, on the other hand, know that consumers want the products and services they buy to match their values. Digital advertising largely takes this into account: most companies are keen to showcase their sustainability credentials, with targeted content often appearing on digital channels.

What many brands don’t explore through their digital persona, however, is empowering consumers to act on those values. Increasingly, consumers expect the brands they interact with to not only demonstrate their own behaviors, but also help their customers take action.

Action speaks louder than words

With 15% of consumers now believe if they don’t have enough information to make informed decisions about living more sustainably, it’s clear that consumers want brands to act as a channel and a resource for action. For example, it’s not enough to put out a banner ad that explains how you make sure your supply chain is “green”. If I see this advertisement from my desk, sofa or train seat, what action are you directing me to at this time so that I too can act in a more environmentally friendly way?

To be successful, digital advertising strategies must now make a fundamental shift to give consumers the choice of passive or active interaction. Sharing content, donating, providing an opportunity for activism: Turning advertising into a participatory act is the next step in brands’ duty to corporate citizenship, and in turn will deepen their own authority and trustworthiness.

Fortunately, emerging ecosystems of digital channels and content create rich environments where brands can play a practical role and empower consumers to act on their values.

Inform, educate… and inspire?

At WaterBear, the partnerships we have with brands use inspiring original content as an entry point to a multi-channel hub of resources containing the information and ways for viewers to live their shared values, interact with non-governmental organizations (NGO) and actively contribute to tackling critical environmental issues.

We are just a model. The main idea here is that there are now multiple ways for brands to achieve the same goal when it comes to engaging with consumers while delivering impact. Just think of the diversity of channel options and people’s increasingly atomized content consumption habits. This new wave of immersive and “asset-based” advertising will apply at all levels.

The model is also proven. Brands such as Gymshark and Headspace have rocketed to success because they have used their digital presences to provide consumers with information and means to take action through multi-channel and multi-format ecosystems.

Gymshark’s use of Pinterest to share lockdown workout routines with the public might as well be NGOs providing engaged consumers with the information and means to campaign for a cause. Headspace’s wellness content that has inspired many to take better care of their mental health could come in the form of inspirational branded video content raising awareness about an endangered species.

Those who play together, stay together

What seems like a major change now will soon be your audience’s minimum expectation. Advertising cannot simply show that a brand is aware of an issue, whether it is water use and carbon emissions, modern slavery and exploitation, or sexual discrimination. It must empower consumers to take action to deal with these issues.

This evolution is to traditional digital media buying what digital advertising was to the classified page of your local newspaper. Brands have realized that the way they advertise needs to prove their purpose and sustainability credentials to gain trust. Now, to differentiate themselves from the competition, they need to engage with consumers on a much deeper level.


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