GDPR and trust issues put the focus on content
As GDPR looms and advertiser concerns about trust – not just brand safety, but privacy and media context too – mount, so the role of branded content rises up the agenda. CMA consultant editor Dominic Mills looks at the bigger picture.
The old saying ‘it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good’ has its roots in the nautical tradition. A head wind for one ship is a tail wind for another sailing in the opposite direction.
So it may be for the role of content marketing, as a series of storms and squalls beset the advertising industry. Inevitably, these issues will see winners and losers. Content marketing looks likely to benefit from a tailwind.
Let’s start with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the new EU rules (also to be adopted by the UK) on data and privacy. They go live on May 25 – less than 90 days away – and mark a step change in consumer rights, strengthening their control of their privacy and data.
Equally, GDPR represents a step-change in the opposite direction for an advertising industry that, like a junkie, has gorged itself on personal data, using it in ever-increasing amounts to underpin strategies based on tighter and tighter targeting. The more personal the data, the more opportunities it offers brands.
At its best, data gives brands the means to serve consumers with the right message, at the right time, and in the right place. In theory, the more personal the better. At its worst – and the rise of adblocking suggests there is a lot of bad practice out there – it can be both abusive, creepy and, at a minimum, irritating.
In a wider societal context, we have also seen increasing concern about media content. This is not just about fake news distributed via social media or YouTube ads on ISIS videos, although that is a large part of it, but also content that spreads hate and fear and, in so doing, divides societies and communities.
The Unilever moment
It is the negative effects of this – and the impact on brands whose messages appear next to this type of content and thus are at risk of being seen to endorse financially support it – that led to a groundbreaking moment last month.
This was when Keith Weed, CMO of Unilever, announced that the world’s second-largest advertiser would direct its media spend towards only responsible media. To widespread acclaim, he said: “Unilever will not invest in platforms or environments that do not protect children or which create division in society and promote anger or hate. We will prioritise investing only in responsible platforms that are committed to creating a positive impact on society.”
While it was clear that Unilever wants to make a stand – in line with its corporate commitments to subjects like sustainability environmentalism and diversity – there is also a sense that Weed is also concerned about the ongoing loss of trust in brands.
This, in itself, is nothing new. The Meaningful Brands survey by Havas last year showed a steady decline in consumer attitudes to brands. This year’s Edelman Trust Barometer reinforces the point, extending it also to brand owners, societal organisations and some media.
Content and the ‘consent experience’
At heart, GDPR is also about trust: consumer trust that their data will not be abused and is being used for legitimate and, for them, beneficial purposes.
That’s because the key to GDPR is consent. Broadly speaking (although there are some exceptions), use of personal data requires the active, opt-in, consent of the consumer. (Messaging that does not depend on personal data is less onerously treated).
Moreover, brands are also required to explain how they intend to use that personal data; and nor can they penalise or withhold content or services from those who don’t give consent.
Amd why would anyone allow brands they don’t trust access to their personal data?
While we don’t yet know how consumers will behave – and the Information Commissioner’s Office(ICO) is launching a consumer campaign next month to explain GDPR — the obvious conclusion is that the greater the level of trust in the brand, the greater the likelihood of consent.
And this is where content comes into play. There are two areas to focus on.
One, if you think of content as an expression of the brand promise brought to life, and the priority of any brand is the acquisition and maintenance of trust, is the role of content as a vehicle through which consent can be won.
Thinking therefore about the ‘consent experience’, brands that prioritise authentic, quality and rewarding content – which may be either useful or rewarding – increase their likelihood of gaining trust.
Indeed, it could be that content becomes the primary driver through which consent is obtained. If the content is good, and offers both implicit and explicit signals of trust, then consumers will be more likely to agree to hand over their personal data.
Good content – clear, simple, consumer-centric, and in the right tone of voice – will also be essential to explain to consumers why sharing their data is a good thing. Too many brands default to template mechanisms to explain why they want our data, and focus on what they get from it but not what the consumer does.
Watch out next month for detailed guidance from the ICO on consent, due to be published on 10/11 April.
The second area is through a brand’s owned media channels. Relying on intermediaries – publishers and platforms – to gain consent may prove difficult. First, unless they follow the Unilever model, brands may find themselves in sub-optimal publisher areas where the publishers’ content is not or is less than trustworthy. Second, those publishers may themselves be seeking consumer consent to gather personal data for their own purposes.
One answer, therefore, is for brands to increase their use of their owned media channels where their control over both the content and the consent experience is much greater.
Either way, it is clear that brand content has a clear role to play.
While nobody really knows exactly how things will pan out in the post-GDPR environment – pessimists say it could be an apocalyptic moment for some brands and for many tech and data intermediaries such as retargeters, optimists that wild-west practices and bad actors will disappear – it clearly represents an opportunity for brands to use content to reset themselves based on trust.
And if they don’t, then they can be sure that either the privacy activists and lobby groups will be quick to highlight brand failings, or they may face draconian fines.
Dominic Mills, Consultant Editor, The CMA