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Responsible Media is transforming Canada’s advertising landscape


Responsible Media may become the next buzzword in 2023. With so much uncertainty about the environment, economy, and society, it’s easy to become disillusioned with making a positive impact. The events surrounding George Floyd in 2020 raised flags with many media and advertising professionals about the severity of social inequity and subsequently its reflection within the office. Questions about how to better support Black-owned publishers and content creators became the topic of the day while media buyers scrambled to communicate a coherent plan on how to improve their investment decisions with equity in mind.

Advertising in Canada has similar problems today – Black-owned or BIPOC-owned publishers are still underrepresented in general media planning. However, there are key areas Responsible Media touches, specifically the environment and society. Assessing your environmental impact can be very difficult in the beginning. There are resources available to help get started such as Ad Net Zero, which provides helpful guides to creating awareness and establishing accountability within an organization open to change. GroupM has gone so far as creating a carbon calculator in partnership with Scope3 to measure the carbon emissions in the media investment supply chain. Similarly, organizations that help understand the advertising/media industry on the environment, like AdGreen, provide production teams and creative agencies with its own carbon calculator to understand and ultimately reduce carbon emissions. These calculators suggest reducing carbon emissions through reducing travel and accommodation costs for video production and data processing. These actions can severely impact business-related travel when brands and agencies are further stressed to meet goals related to environmental impact.

Responsible Media to support societal initiatives is less prescriptive. Trust is declining across Canada and it can be difficult for advertisers and media buyers to see value in advertising with news media publishers. This sentiment can be amplified by misinformation and disinformation proliferating in social media. The Canadian government has stepped in to create the Digital Citizen Initiative to support a healthy information ecosystem, which has a focus on empowering Canadians with resources to understand disinformation with a view towards developing future policy-making. Similarly, NewsGuard has developed a rating system for news media publishers in Canada based on the site’s risk for publishing misinformation or using unreliable sources. This ranking shows the trustworthiness of a publisher but can also demonstrate which news outlets serve underrepresented groups including BIPOC and 2SLGBTQ+ communities. NewsGuard’s ratings for news outlets is conducted by a team of experienced journalists and editors focused on credibility and transparency.

In recent years, the Canadian Media Directors’ Council published the Canadian Media Manifesto, which aims to support Canadian media-owners and publishers by taking a pledge to ensure transparency, promote accountability, and support building an infrastructure that allows Canadian media to thrive. Participating agencies have agreed to direct 25% of their media investment to Canadian media by 2025. This will be measured by Standard Media Index (SMI), which cleanses and harmonizes media investment data from the major agencies to produce trends and reporting insights about how media is purchased in Canada. Similarly, The Conseil des directeurs médias du Québec (CDMQ) and the Association of Creative Communications Agencies (A2C) published the Guide to Responsible Media Practices, which has a greater focus on defining the role of local media in relation to economic benefits, preservation of local/regional culture, and support of journalistic integrity. The guidelines also suggest the use of a Local Media Index (LMI) to identify the percentage of media invested in across Canada and specifically in Quebec. In addition, the notion of auditing the digital/programmatic supply chain for how ad dollars are spent is very similar if not directly connected to supply path optimization. This is a process necessary for carbon footprint reduction for accessing Canadian ad opportunities with efficiency. Overall, there is an increasing demand for transparency by brands to know how much of their ad investment reaches Canadian media owners. 

Many of these initiatives focus on individual accountability instead of achieving collective goals together as part of the greater ad industry. More specifically, emphasis is placed on media buyers to make decisions on what to buy without necessarily collaborating with media owners or technologies necessary to realize those partnerships. The desire for transparency is valuable but can be costly if trust was not previously established. Furthermore, Canadian media owners have focused on selling advertising based on unique capabilities or simply differentiating themselves from their competitors.

Progress can be made by media buyers and media sellers coming together to use technology that demonstrates the journey a brand’s customer takes across the Canadian media landscape. In doing so, we can see the value each media owner contributes to the social value of a brand while understanding environmental impact produced from each touchpoint in that journey. Although this may be overly optimistic, it is founded on hope that we can have responsible media ecosystem in Canada – one that accounts for the contribution of all parties in that change. Solving these problems one media buyer at a time reinforces a competitive nature to this change, which will inevitably lose momentum and stagnate.


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