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By Leah Montebello
Harriet Kingaby, Co-Chair of Conscious Advertising Network, discusses their recent funding, plans for growth and why the project continues to be needed.
“The last two years have been an awakening, and diversity and inclusion has really come into its own in advertising. This is also the same with brands and sustainability. The tide is turning and we want to educate agencies and brands on how they can do better” – Harriet Kingaby
The Conscious Advertising Network (CAN) is a voluntary coalition of organizations that aim for industry ethics to catch up with modern advertising technology.
For CAN, advertisers have an obligation to promote healthy intellects and fund positive causes. This means promoting good journalism, and endorsing diverse creatives. As such, CAN membership is free and voluntary, which Harriet Kingaby, Co-Chair of CAN, says allows for members to have a “laser sharp focus on the wider mission of our six manifesto areas”.
These key areas include misinformation, hate speech, anti-fraud, informed consent, diversity & inclusion and children’s wellbeing, and are tied together under the umbrella of continual improvement.
As part of this mission, CAN sees their short-term future as transforming from a project to an organisation, with the eventual goal of obsoletion.
Why CAN is still needed today
Disinformation has been a huge problem over the past few years. From Covid deniers to political insurrections, the power of digital and the spread of falsehoods is undeniable. However, for the CAN team, brands need to take responsibility for their content and ensure ads are being placed appropriately. For instance, well-known brands have faced PR nightmares when their ads have been placed on anti-semitic websites, or far-right forums.
A key milestone in the coming year is COP26, which will be hosted in Glasgow at the end of 2021. Kingaby explains, “We are very concerned that COP26 will be subject to misinformation, especially by climate deniers”. She continues, “The current digital climate has meant that we spend more time in front of our screens than ever before and this means more time for bad actors to also be in front of their screens”.
This makes CAN’s work even more pressing and demonstrates how immediate action must be taken to drive meaningful change; a point that was emphasised by Jake Dubbins, Co-founder of CAN, who spoke at the UN Responsible Business and Human Rights Forum (Asia and the Pacific) yesterday.
Plans for growth
Interestingly, CAN is run on a voluntary basis, and whilst this has injected the raw passion needed to get the coalition off the ground, a paid team is needed to meaningfully scale.
Indeed, the team has recently received philanthropic funding from both the Quadrature Climate Foundation and European Climate Foundation, which have a specific focus on climate change, hate speech and misinformation.
The aim is to use this funding to professionalise over the next two years, with the overarching ambition of rolling the organisation out on a global scale.
CAN have already onboarded the likes of Havas Media Group, GSK and GroupM UK, as well as household brands such as The Body Shop, and their team is experimenting with how they can extend the organisation beyond the UK through brand partnerships. This will give them a greater reach, and also a higher impact needed with the inherently global, digital world.
The role of media
However, CAN’s mission is no easy feat and there is certainly more needed from social media organisations. Despite various misinformation policies in place on platforms, “this can be undermined by having ads served next to climate denial or racism”, Kingaby explains. This makes positive policies redundant, and demonstrates the flaws in the system.
For CAN, misinformation should not be monetized or monetizable, and policies should be wholly enforced where they exist on social media platforms – even if that means re-inventing their ad structure. However, this is a difficult web to unknot and an entire culture needs to be shifted.
Reasons to be cheerful
However, it is not all doom and gloom, and Kingaby notes some of the industry’s progress. “The last two years have been an awakening and diversity and inclusion has really come into its own in advertising. This is also the same with brands and sustainability. The tide is turning and we want to educate agencies and brands on how they can do better”.
This is a big win for producers and CAN are optimistic for this shift in creating more conscious advertising.
You can find out more about Conscious Advertising Network here.