WFA: The world’s first guide on data ethics for brands

By AdNews | 1 June 2020

The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) has launched what it calls is the world’s first guide for brands on data ethics. 

Raja Rajamannar, WFA President and chief marketing and communications officer at Mastercard, says the advertising industry is at a crucial point with mounting regulatory pressures around how companies collect and use personal data.

“More than ever, people expect full transparency, control and choice over how their data is shared and used by companies,” he says.

“Any brands that ignore this shift will be left behind. We, as an industry, need to take a proactive approach and demonstrate to consumers that we respect them and their data.”

Data Ethics – The Rise of Morality in Technology sets out what marketers need to consider to ensure data is used ethically and the actions they can take to promote the issue across their companies.

WFA research shows that 74% of CMOs say data ethics will be more important to their role in the next five years and issues around data collection and privacy have risen up the agenda in light of COVID-19.

The importance of data ethics is backed by a WFA survey of senior executives at some of the world’s biggest brand owners, which reveals that 82% would consider leaving their current employer if they felt the approach to data was not ethical.

More than a quarter (26%) of the 147 respondents – representing companies spending a global total of $55 billion on marketing communications – have already felt uncomfortable about the use of data at some time during their careers.

Few than half (48%) of respondents to the WFA’s survey said their company had a data ethics policy right now.

“The benefits and critical importance of data-enabled tech have been more evident of late than ever before,” says Stephan Loerke, CEO of the WFA.

“But we should not default to an attitude of 'because we can, we should' in terms of data usage.

“The ad industry needs to have a conversation on data that distinguishes ‘the right to do something’ from ‘doing the right thing’.“

The study is based on a year’s work by the WFA’s Data Ethics Board, chaired by Unilever’s general counsel – global marketing and media, Jamie Barnard.

The board members include senior experts from 19 of the world’s biggest companies including AB InBev, Diageo, Ferrero, Ikea, L’Oréal, Mars, Mastercard, P&G, Shell, Unilever and Visa/.

Barnard says lockdown has re-emphasised the importance and value of technology.

“There’s no better time to review our data ethics and look to design a digital future that enhances people’s lives and protects them in equal measure,” he says. “I hope this report will be an important step towards striking this balance.”

The guide outlines four key principles: respect, fairness, accountability and transparency.

Conny Braams, the chief digital and marketing officer at Unilever, says the advertising, marketing and media industry must look beyond regulation and champion the ethical use of consumer data.

“We have a responsibility to inspire trust in our brands and our use of data, and raise ethical standards to drive positive change in society,” says Braams.

Lubomira Rochet, chief digital officer, L’Oreìal, says data comes with positive sides, namely the ability for brands to personalise their interactions with their consumers and to provide uniquely customised experiences to them.

“But for this promise to be fulfilled we also need to mobilise as an industry to ensure that we handle data collection and use with the highest level of transparency and ethics,” says Rochet.

“Consumers’ trust is the number one currency for our brands and the reason why we need to rethink data sharing as true value exchange. We need the entire industry to shift towards a more positive, transparent approach to data.”

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