the hidden impact of digital ads
- A typical digital ad campaign for a single brand can produce hundreds of tons of carbon dioxide.
- Brands like Heineken, Nestlé and Toyota are looking to reduce these emissions.
- This article is part of the “Making Net Zero Possible” series, which uncovers forward-thinking solutions that can make a net zero future a reality.
Many of the world’s biggest brands want you to feel good about their commitment to net zero emissions. But digital ads that boast of these promises have their own costs to the planet.
Of the $500 billion marketers spend on advertising each year, nearly three-quarters of that year’s total goes to digital advertising. And with digital or programmatic advertising, which powers everything from connected TV platforms, retail media and outdoor advertising, the industry’s carbon emissions are only expected to increase in 2022 and beyond. of the.
According to a recent estimate from Fifty-Five, a marketing agency, a typical digital advertising campaign – consisting of filming, editing, serving and measuring video, social, display and search ads – for a single advertiser produces 323 tons of carbon dioxidethe equivalent of 160 return flights between Paris and New York.
In the milliseconds it takes for an ad to load on a webpage, dozens of companies from ad agencies, data management platforms, ad exchanges, ad servers, and vendors brand safety companies participate in a bidding process to win the auction that serves an ad to a particular type of consumer.
In the process, thousands of servers kick into action, requiring electricity to power each ad call. “It’s the hidden cost of advertising that needs to be exposed,” said Ruben Schreurs, chief product officer at Ebiquity, a marketing and media consultancy.
A handful of major brand advertisers – including Nestlé, resume, Toyota, Heineken and British supermarket chain Tesco — are examining how to reduce their digital advertising footprint. But experts say the convoluted nature of the online advertising ecosystem and its many power-hungry intermediaries make the task daunting.
Other marketers are hesitant to add another audit to their growing lists of responsibilities, especially one that’s unlikely to translate to immediate sales growth when high inflation might cause some consumers to cut spending.
Carbon calculators and providers help track, reduce and offset digital ad emissions
Last year, Nestlé began tracking emissions related to its digital ads in Europe. Nescafé in France worked with Impact+, an adtech company, to halve the energy produced by an online video advertising campaign.
Nescafé France also used a tool from Publicis Groupe, another advertising agency, to calculate the carbon offset price for a campaign for KitKat sweets in the UK. It came in at just £460, or $547 – a small fraction of the £1.6m, or $1.9m campaign.
Tina Beuchler, global head of media and partnerships at Nestlé, told Insider there are encouraging signs from these early tests that greener digital ad buying efforts can boost sales and other metrics. commercial.
“It’s not a cost factor per se,” she said. The fact that companies don’t have to choose between buying green advertising and controlling costs is a plus, Beuchler added.
Tesco applies its strategy for the reduction of plastic waste to the company’s media plans. The supermarket chain last year started using a carbon calculator from its media agency, MediaCom, to measure emissions across Tesco’s marketing channels, and turned to suppliers like Mobsta to eliminate impressions wasted advertising.
Toyota is working with The&Partnership, a media agency, and SeenThis, a Swedish technology company, to reduce loading times of its digital advertisements and thus reduce the use of data from its campaigns. Both resume and Heineken are also in the early stages of determining the environmental impact of their digital spending.
Who should reduce emissions from the digital advertising industry?
Some experts believe the marketing industry has a long way to go to quantify and reduce its carbon footprint.
Mikko Kotila, CTO of Cavai — an adtech company — and author of the research paper “Environmental impact assessment of online advertisingsaid advertising companies tend to focus on reducing their direct emissions, but the biggest source of emissions is the consumer after purchasing an advertised product.
Scope3, a startup that measures the carbon footprint of digital ads, said ad tech giant The Trade Desk eliminated nearly 5,400 tons of carbon a year by shutting down ad auction platform Open Bidding. Google. Scope3 calculated that if every ad company stopped buying ads using Open Bidding, it would save 100,000 tons of carbon per year, which is equivalent to taking 20,000 cars off the road. Google did not respond to Insider’s requests for comment.
“I’m not optimistic. But at the same time, we have very proactive things,” Kotila said. He pointed out that The Trade Desk was opting out of Google’s Open Bidding tool, saying the move reduced inefficiencies in the bidding process for advertisers – although sustainability may not have been his original goal.
Other industry experts say marketers should ultimately take responsibility for cleaning up emissions from the digital advertising industry.
Still, there aren’t many global benchmarks and standards for marketers to follow, and others don’t want to go public with their own numbers first.
Another major challenge for marketers is proving the ROI of their sustainability efforts to the rest of the C-suite.
“We just have to be very serious about putting the responsibility where it belongs, which is on the sellers,” Kotila said.