Will Gilroy, director of communications at the World Federation of Advertisers
Will Gilroy, director of communications at the World Federation of Advertisers
A view from Will Gilroy

Think BR: Digital's new challenge

Marketers must behave in a manner that's acceptable to consumers, which is why the World Federation of Advertisers is attempting to define some ground rules, writes the WFA's Will Gilroy.

Consumers and brands may never see 100% eye-to-eye but there should be plenty of common ground. Our challenge in the digital space is to define where that common ground is.

If we are honest we will recognise that some of the digital tactics employed by advertisers - not always the biggest and not always the most reputable - have created a bit of a barrier.

Project Reconnect is the WFA's attempt to overcome this and provide guidance to marketers so that brand communications more closely reflect what people really want and expect from brands online.

Ultimately, we want to build trust by bringing people and brands closer together around an agreed set of ground rules for interaction and communication.

We’ve started in a challenging and high profile area: digital marketing to children.

Our research involved conversations, face-to-face through focus groups and via closed social media platforms, with parents and children.

WFA and Firefly Millward Brown asked both groups what they find acceptable and unacceptable as consumers and parents, and about when they allow brands into their online lives and when they don’t.

The results - based on conversations in the UK, Brazil, China and the US  - show a significant degree of convergence between consumer expectations across different markets.

Although there are diverging views in a number of areas in relation to the specifics of the marketing execution, we believe this represents a first global consensus on what is and what is not acceptable.

This has allowed us to identify a basic 10-point etiquette guide, from which I’d single out five as crucial for marketers:

1. What’s unacceptable offline is also unacceptable online

Parents apply the same principles online as they do offline when it comes to issues such as safety and permissibility. Marketers need to use common sense and apply the same standards everywhere.

2. Consumers understand the advertising trade off

Consumers, and children in particular, understand that they get free content thanks to advertising. Conversely, this means that if they have paid for content they don’t expect brand messages unless they are properly integrated such as real-life billboards on Gran Turismo.

3. Don’t call me, I’ll call you

Advertisers must be invited to be part of each consumer’s digital world. In order to be acceptable, all contact from brands needs to have been specifically agreed. The consumer needs to feel in control of the conversation.

4. Consumers think there is a time and a place for commercial messages

Email contact is ok (if agreed) but SMS marketing is largely rejected, although in China it was considered to be more acceptable under specific circumstances.

Universally, teens preferred contact to be made during holidays rather than during school time. Don’t pester; brands need to be willing to be ignored if it’s not convenient as it shows more respect.

5. What are you doing with their data?

People, and children in particular, are broadly positively disposed to tracking if it makes ads more relevant, but they are nervous about how long brands keep their data for. Brands need to be transparent about data storage.

Although all five may appear intuitive to seasoned marketers, it is not obvious to consumers that marketers are abiding by these ground rules.

Brands need consumers to trust that they will behave appropriately.

This is clearly just the first step in a journey designed to help brand owners talk to their consumers about marketing behaviours and practices. 

The WFA is committed to creating an on-going dialogue between consumers and brands. It wants to facilitate the development of clear ground rules for marketers based on what consumers around the world think is acceptable.

We’re already working on the next steps.

Will Gilroy, director of communications at the World Federation of Advertisers