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[VIDEO] Sustainability matters - and that must apply to your media buying

Learn more about how sustainability can be built into advertising and media buying, by watching Jack Mutlow's presentation at IMRG Fashion Connect 2023.

Why it matters

Any business focusing on sustainability must ensure that this includes its media buying. If not, you’re failing to tackle the full impact of your carbon footprint.  

After all, the internet generates over twice the annual CO2 emissions of the entire airline industry and digital advertising is deeply embedded in this. While emissions associated with one display ad impression may only be a small 0.1-0.2g of carbon dioxide – for video and CTV, this naturally will be higher – multiply this by the 8 trillion daily programmatic transactions happening, and this translates into a vast number. And as much of this represents indirect emissions, this means they’re the hardest to measure and be accountable for.  

Deeper dive – steps you can take to start addressing this issue 

While digital advertising is easy to carry out, it can be wasteful. Here are seven actions that can help play a role in supporting carbon-neutral commitments.   

Adopt the recycling approach: Recycling focuses on reducing, reusing, and only then recycling. For programmatic, this translates into reducing, improving, and offsetting. Many companies concentrate on the third stage, which fails to address the critical reduction issue.  

Offsetting’s not the answer: Adopting a carbon offsetting approach is an easy, quick, and convenient step for many companies to take to appear environmentally friendly. But all too often, it’s not done correctly, so it should be one of your last considerations. The key issue is it often fails to deliver real carbon cuts. Taking meaningful action by reducing emissions and improving business operations is where real change happens and where you need to focus your efforts.      

Invest in a strong digital identity: You can reduce advertising waste by investing in a strong digital identity. In doing so, you can focus on buying higher-quality impressions and cut out low-value placements. This helps ensure you’re delivering impressions to an individual rather than targeting cookies, which results in multiple ads being sent to the same person. And by tying your frequency cap to an ID rather than a cookie again reduces wasted impressions. In improving your targeting this way, you’re increasing efficiencies, delivering more effective campaigns, and cutting down CO2 emissions by serving fewer ads. 

Measure better. Move away from metrics that add no value – like clicks – as optimising towards these doesn’t help your business and just fuels waste. Focus on measuring what’s making a difference to your business, rather than what’s easy to measure. This allows you to invest more in what’s delivering value and cut out what’s not. The result is better campaigns and greater efficiencies.   

Simplify your tech stack: Big isn’t beautiful – it’s inefficient. Stacks with multiple touchpoints mean large computational loads and potential overlapping inventory that generates a great deal of wasteful electricity. Look at how to reduce your technology complexity or work with a digitally integrated partner, so everything happens in a single server stack. Removing the number of touchpoints for each campaign means you’ll be more energy efficient and less wasteful. It also has the added advantage of reducing any potential data loss.   

Reduce your asset size: Size also matters when it comes to your creative assets. Optimising the size of each of them reduces the power needed to serve them and improves your customer experience. And lighter page sizes also improve your SEO.  

Ask questions: Start speaking with your media partners to understand their thoughts and plans. Only joint action will make a difference. Get the conversations going and start looking at how changes can be made. But remember, this is an emerging issue, so don’t expect partners to have all the answers and a fully sewen up strategy.  

This is an approach already undertaken by active lifestyle clothing and accessories retailer FatFace, as highlighted by Sophia Holland Thomas, its Senior Digital Marketing Manager, when she says, “Sustainability and decarbonisation are incredibly important to FatFace and our customers. As such we’re always looking for ways our partners can measure and reduce the footprint of our activity not just for the clothes we sell but also the digital media we buy”.

The bottom line 

Because of the complexity of today’s programmatic supply chains, programmatic advertising is hugely energy-intensive, and finding solutions requires unified industry cooperation. Retailers must recognise they have more power than they think, and beginning these conversations with your partners can help start the process of making changes. There’s a long way to go and many challenges, but focusing on delivering better advertising more efficiently is good for the environment and business. 

​>>> Watch Jack Mutlow’s presentation to learn more about sustainability and media buying.