What are advertisers’ biggest challenges?

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The WFA is the global trade association for advertisers. Collectively, their members represent more than 90% of global adspend. They promote responsible, efficient, and effective marketing all around the world. Stephan Loerke, CEO of the WFA details advertisers’ main challenges today.

Can you explain the WFA’s mission?

The WFA is the global trade association for advertisers. We seek to promote responsible, efficient, and effective marketing communications all around the world.

Who are your members?

Collectively our members represent more than 90% of global adspend. We have 120 of world’s largest brands across 17 different categories, plus a network of local advertiser associations, including Union des Marques in France, the ANA in the US, ISBA in the UK, and the CNA in China.

What are the biggest challenges faced by your members in response to the events of 2020?

Our members in every market are faced with very little visibility and huge turbulence. The WFA has pivoted to support them by moving all our services online, and providing guidance for navigating these uncertain waters. But we have not put our other priorities on hold. We are also advancing a longer-term agenda that focuses on four areas: brand and online safety; measurement and transparency; diversity and inclusion; and sustainability.

What are the particular challenges for media in terms of brand safety?

The idea of a responsible marketer is very much linked to online safety. After headlines about brands appearing next to ISIS content, and the Facebook Live stream of the Christchurch murders last year, marketers realise that they are enabling this content: 95% of Facebook revenues are from advertising, and for Google it’s 75%.

We launched the Global Alliance for Responsible Media last year, with the aim of creating a standard, cross-platform definition of harmful content; a cross-platform method for measuring the incidence of harmful content; and the creation of cross-platform tools that allow brand owners to decide where they want to place their campaigns, and to hold those platforms accountable. Brand owners have different appetites for risk and different cultures, so it’s about allowing them to make informed choices and being able to hold the platforms accountable. We want to be sure we can live up to people’s expectations. If we get that right, it will be an important contribution not only to our industry but also to society.

What are the challenges for cross media measurement?

This is an important priority for us. Media measurement has been built over time, media by media, and each of those measuring systems has become a reliable tool that plays an important part in creating trust and accountability. But we are seeing seismic shifts in media spend – digital is now the biggest media, and because of the pandemic it continues to grow its share.

There is increasing demand from brand owners to put a framework in place that allows a cross media measurement approach, to allow marketing spend decisions to be made on that basis. The WFA has taken the initiative on this, and we have a good level of engagement and collaboration from platforms, media owners, and brand owners. We are not building a global framework; we are seeking a solution that sets parameters, but leaves space for individual markets to adapt locally. We don’t have a time frame for the final product, but the next step will be our two pilot projects in the US and the UK.

How are you approaching the diversity issue?

Diversity and inclusion is clearly a broader subject, but it’s very relevant to the media and marketing industry, because it has repercussions on our ability to connect effectively with people, and on our ability to bring in the best talent. It also has repercussions with respect to our societal responsibility as an industry, so it’s a very important priority for us.

On sustainability, do you think that marketers have changed their vision in response to Covid-19 and the current economic situation?

I think we are nowhere in the marketing industry in terms of sustainability. I am being blunt and provocative, but there is a long, long journey ahead of us. The industry is very much focused on the pandemic, and rightly so, but the mother of all battles is waiting for us. The challenge is to come up with a model that is compatible with a sustainable future, and we are nowhere near that yet.

We are learning valuable lessons during the pandemic that might help with this challenge. Who would have predicted that we could be so agile in adjusting to the lockdown? Who would have believed it was possible to run a global business from your bedroom? Or that brands would be able to make themselves truly relevant to consumers and society? My moment of enlightenment came at a conference in 2019 during a speech by an 18-year-old schoolgirl, who was leading the “Fridays for Future” movement in Germany. She stood on the stage and told 400 middle-aged senior marketing execs: “Your stuff has no future. It hurts our planet. You are deaf. You don’t understand what we are telling you.”

She didn’t have a solution, but for me that was the moment where I suddenly got it. We need to be humble and listen to voices that are very uncomfortable. I’m confident that the ad industry will find a way forward, but there’s a challenging road ahead of us.

We need to
be humble and listen
to voices that are
very uncomfortable.
Stephan Loerke

Stephan Loerke

CEO, World Federation of Advertisers (WFA)

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