Ethical advertising is a win-win for brands; it keeps consumers safe and it’s in advertisers’ best interests too.

With reports that Ford had been forced to pay over $19 million in reparations due to false advertising claims earlier this year, ethical advertising has never been more crucial. The need for careful monitoring of content is further emphasized by the harrowing footage from a Buffalo shooting that went viral despite the video’s swift removal from gaming livestream platform Twitch.

The fast-paced nature of digital advertising, and the ability to rapidly share content with ease, means advertisers have a duty to ensure they are adhering to strict regulations; not just with their creative, but with the use of personal data and their choice of partners. Ethical advertising is a win-win for brands; it keeps consumers safe and it’s in advertisers’ best interests too. Over half of consumers (57%) are conscious of the values of the brands they buy and 55% of consumers are less likely to buy from brands that are advertised next to fake news.

Therefore, if brands don’t demonstrate strong ethics and aren’t selective about their ad placements, they could lose valuable customers. Moreover, ethical advertising encompasses protection of consumer data and full transparency, both around how consumer data is collected and used, and the nature of the ads themselves. This means no false advertising and ensuring consumers haven’t been tricked into engaging with creative. In 2022, these principles are more important than ever; here are the most crucial elements of ethical advertising that need to be considered, as priority.

Bolstering brand safety with contextual intelligence

According to a DoubleVerify and Harris Poll study, 82% of consumers say it’s important that a brand’s ad appears next to content that is safe, accurate and trustworthy. Brand safety is therefore essential for not only retaining consumer trust and respect, but also for protecting brand reputation. Brands pulled ads from YouTube earlier this year for this very reason, after they appeared next to conspiracy videos on the platform.

Within the programmatic advertising ecosystem, however, it can often be difficult for brands to keep track of their ad placements as there are multiple players involved on the buy and sell sides, with many bidders on each set of inventory. Advertisers historically used keyword blocklists to eliminate potentially damaging content from this process, but the wide-ranging categories this method employs means content can be disregarded – even if perfectly suitable – resulting in missed opportunities for advertisers.

Contextual intelligence is a valuable solution; it uses AI to detect content sentiment, rather than just the words contained within it. Natural language processing (NLP) is a vital part of contextual advertising, as it’s through this technology that the overall feeling of a webpage is recognizable. Detecting context, sentiment and the words themselves is a winning combination, and hugely advantageous when determining ad suitability.

For consumers, this means receiving adverts that have been placed according to the relevancy and appropriateness of their surrounding content, without their personal data being used at any point in the process. Contextual intelligence therefore provides a privacy-safe solution while also benefiting the consumer — a truly important factor — as they receive relevant ads without needing to volunteer personal information.

Harnessing quality journalism for better placement

Another way for advertisers to ensure their creative aligns with quality content is by teaming up with publishers that offer quality journalism. Advertisers should be aware of malicious publications generating harmful or misleading stories, and the detrimental impact appearing alongside this type of content has on a brand.

Moreover, brands are more likely to be seen as respectable when associated with premium content; whether they were intended to appear there or not, ads that are aligned with inappropriate content can be seen as actively endorsing it. Pinterest has become the first social media platform to ban climate misinformation from both posts and ads on the platform, highlighting the seriousness with which major platforms are treating fake news and the strong desire to not be associated with, or support, malicious content.

Maintaining honesty and upholding a strong purpose

Ethical advertising encompasses honesty, transparency and authenticity, and is evidently becoming more important for consumers. Because of this, openness with consumers is paramount, and brands shouldn’t have ulterior motives. There should be complete clarity around consumer data — why it is being collected, what it is being used for and how it is being implemented. Moreover, consumers should have the chance to opt out of their data being used, and must be able to do so quickly and easily.

This transparency also applies to ads themselves – as well as ensuring adverts do not make any false claims about products or services, brands should also avoid click-bait, making sure consumers are not being tricked into engaging with ads by misleading captions or headlines.

Finally, having clear values and a higher purpose outside of marketing efforts is increasingly important, and is a key component of ethical advertising.

After all, if an agency or brand supports, or is complicit in, negative practices behind the scenes, the work they produce is tainted by such unethical behavior.

This is especially true for brands that actively promote an admirable purpose but don’t actually follow through on it. For example, many large oil companies have come under fire for “green-washing” — falsely claiming to implement sustainable practices. This is why authenticity is so important when communicating brand values in ad campaigns; brands must sufficiently act upon them or risk reputational damage and loss of custom.

Seven in 10 consumers say it’s important for brands to give back to their local community, showing that custom and loyalty often hinges on a brand’s purpose and positive actions. Brands must communicate purpose honestly and conscientiously to engage consumers, while making sure they uphold these values at all times.

In the fast-paced digital world where content is abundant, ethical advertising is paramount, and there are fewer hiding places in 2022. By supporting quality journalism and using contextual intelligence technology, brands can protect their reputations by ensuring their ads are featured alongside quality content. Along with data transparency, this will encourage strong, trusted relationships with consumers; and if they fulfill the purposes they claim to uphold, brands can position themselves as truly ethical.

(As published on AiThority)