While I was attending WordCamp Europe (WCEU) 2019 in Berlin, something else was going on at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. I learned about this later through the NoAgenda podcast (who also provided a detailed account of the setting for how + why this happened — see “Brand Safety“).
Although I believe I understand the impetus behind this decision, I feel as though the raison d’être is misguided. In order to explain my critique, let me step back and offer a quote from the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA)’s website describing the proposed project:
An immediate focus will be to form and empower an inclusive working group charged with developing a set of initial ideas and prioritizing next steps. This is the first time an alliance that represents all sides of the media industry is forming, underpinned by a working group committed to meeting regularly and reporting back on its progress to members and the industry. https://www.wfanet.org/news-centre/global-alliance-for-responsible-media-launches-to-address-digital-safety/
If this were an inclusive alliance “that represents all sides of the media industry”, then I would have been asked to join. Spoiler alert: I wasn’t. 😯
But that isn’t the reason why I believe the project is misguided. I believe the project is misguided because I believe the way advertising used to work is different than the way successful business / brand communications work now, and the way they will become increasingly successful in the future.
In my opinion, the old-fashioned myth that editorial content and advertising content are independent of one another is no longer viable — and the proposed “Global Alliance for Responsible Media” only underscores this increasingly clear fact.
In contrast, the new way forward ought not to be focused on safety (i.e., something like a blank canvas), but rather on appropriate contextualization. Obviously, what one advertiser feels is appropriate, may not be appropriate to another advertiser. This is, after all, what has led us to the very rich and varied media landscape we now have and cherish… an environment which is increasingly becoming more and more diverse by the day.
I believe the way forward for brands and brand owners must involve becoming more aware of the environments where they intend to be (and even to become more) actively engaged, not less. This will also involve more participation from (and engagement with) each brand’s potential customers. Disengagement, discord, distance, dissociation and the like are simply paths to disintegration.
I understand this may very well fly in the face of “creatives” and other media partners who have grown accustomed to economies of scale, mass production, and strong walls separating supposedly different classes of content. My hunch is that such old-fashioned approaches need to adapt to the changing environment, or perhaps proponents of such old-fashioned techniques and technologies will at some point simply have become extinct (or maybe just increasingly marginalized).