When it comes to accurately measuring and reducing the carbon footprint of digital ad campaigns, the clock is ticking on the global marketing industry. According to a recent report from Dentsu and Microsoft Advertising, more than three quarters of consumers say that, in five years time, they only want to be spending money on brands that practise sustainable advertising. What’s more, 42% of respondents to the same study thought brands should provide clear, comparable information on the environmental impact of their products and marketing activities.
Unfortunately, working out the true environmental cost of a digital ad campaign is a complex task and, as yet, there is no internationally-accepted process for doing so. In the first instance, there is a need to analyse the entire production and distribution process, looking in detail at how a piece of creative is produced and delivered.
Assessing the environmental costs of digital distribution becomes even more difficult when you consider that there are often many hidden layers and potential traps to take into account. For example, placing a digital ad will usually require the use of software running on third-party cloud data centres. And what about the carbon footprint of the network, publisher websites and the devices where ads are being served? How do you factor those into your calculations?
Made to measure?
In general terms, carbon emission reporting can be grouped into three ‘buckets’: direct emissions from the things you own (i.e. office spaces); emissions from the energy sources you use (i.e. electricity); and upstream and downstream emissions, (things not owned by the reporting organisation).
To build a truly detailed picture, it becomes necessary for a brand’s agencies to get reliable emissions data from all of their technology partners. Carbon emissions data is quite uncertain for digital activities currently due to a lack of life cycle assessments on electronic components and hardware. Even where data is available, there will still be elements that fall outside a providers’ scope, and there is currently no broadly accepted framework for performing this kind of analysis. The use of different parameters and methodologies will continue to make valid comparisons difficult.
To get as close as possible to a comparable measurement, we, as an industry, need to establish the exact scope being reported on, the methodology used and the ratio used to convert activities into CO2 equivalents. We need to establish global reporting standards that allow us to effectively measure, understand and compare our impact.
Reducing emissions now
For brand advertisers not content to wait for the agreement of the global ad industry, there are a number of steps you can take right now to help reduce the carbon footprint of your digital ad campaigns.
The first is to simplify your tech stack. With the deprecation of third-party cookies hovering on the horizon, it’s likely that your organisation will already be conducting an audit of your tech stack and, potentially, reducing the number of tech partners you want to work with in the future. By reducing the layers between creating and delivering an ad, not only do you make the process of buying and placing ad inventory more transparent and easier to manage, you also reduce the volume of indirect emissions associated with your campaigns. Media auditing has historically been about transparency and fraud. In 2022, environmental impact must now be a part of that process.
Another practical step you can take today is to reduce the data load of your digital ads. In basic terms, shorter ads are lighter than longer ads, as are certain ad formats and compressions rates. Optimising asset size is not just good for user experience, but also reduces the emissions involved in serving an ad and conserves the battery power and overall lifespan of a device receiving it.
A final way to reduce the carbon footprint of your campaign is to produce better targeted, more relevant, more attention-grabbing creative, increasing impact and reducing the energy waste associated with ineffective online impressions. Easy right?
Well, no, it’s not easy, but it starts by backing away from ‘Viewability’ as a key metric and, instead, focusing more on generating ‘Attention’.
The age of attention
For too long, viewability has been the main measure by which the quality of impressions is assessed. This, in turn, has led to all impressions being considered equal – whether or not any notice has actually been paid to an ad. The end result has been a race to the bottom, where less scrupulous publishers cram smaller, easily overlooked ads into web pages simply to satisfy viewability metrics. Ironically, some of the drivers of viewability – such as the size of the format or the position on the page – can actually have a negative impact on attention levels.
As 2022 progresses, expect to see many advertisers focus on attention as a key metric by which to plan, buy and measure media. But why is attention so important? Research undertaken last year by Dentsu International revealed that attention is three times better at predicting outcomes than viewability. The same report outlined four key factors that impact the level of attention paid to digital ads.
The first of these is ‘quality of media’. dentsu’s study demonstrates that both video and display ads benefitted from quality, in terms of viewable time. This insight prompts publishers and advertisers to drive high user engagement with quality content, which induces a slow scroll speed and a high average time in view (even higher than instream).
Another important factor in relation to attention is ‘user choice’, i.e. whether the user has voluntarily chosen to view the ad. Although ads forced on consumers gain more attention, when a consumer voluntarily chooses to view an ad, it results in a significant impact on brand lift metrics, whether it’s viewed for 2 seconds or 20 seconds.
The dentsu study also showed that placing ads within relevant context for the reader gives an uplift of ‘attentive seconds per 1,000’ of 13%. It’s human nature to engage with information that we find interesting – whether that’s through engaging creative or contextual relevance.
As you might expect, creativity remains the single most significant factor in determining the attention an ad receives. The difference between good creative and poor creative can impact recall by as much as 17%. For this reason pre-testing ads on an audience of volunteers, using facial coding or eye-tracking measurement, has become imperative. In addition, advertisers and their agencies should be testing different buying modes and reporting on attention metrics and linking attention level to impact.
With the eyes of the industry also now focused on delivering sustainability, spotlighting attention can help advertisers have a positive impact on their carbon footprint. Not only will creating a framework for measuring attention help advertisers to deliver more engaging ads and get better campaign results, it will also help them deliver truly sustainable advertising at a time when consumers are demanding climate action from the brands they consume.
Sustainable media may only be a relatively small part of the ‘climate action’ equation but it allows digital marketing professionals to be proactive on this issue and helps them to keep the pressure on their own organisations to only be delivering products and services that are environmentally sustainable.
Caroline Hugonenc, Global SVP Research & Insights, Teads