data and insights

How do your ad campaign’s carbon emissions stack up?

Last year the industry got its hands on the first ever data set to shed insight into a major cause of waste within the digital ad ecosystem… and the hidden cost of it.

Analysing more than $375M of digital ad spend across 116bn display impressions from 43 brands, the first of it’s kind study by Ebiquity found:

  • The waste: A whopping 15% of ad spend going to ‘made for advertising’ (MFA) websites that provide no value to brands.
  • The hidden cost: Significantly higher carbon emissions (26%!) on these particular placements.

With growing intensity around a brand’s sustainability efforts, marketers now have a new metric to take into account when improving performance of campaigns: carbon emissions.

But, where do you turn to measure and understand emissions? And, how do you stack up against what’s happening industry-wide?

Identifying the guideposts: Looking closely at the Ebiquity report, a very specific (yet very large) sample of impressions was studied. The results established a cohort emissions benchmark specifically for display campaigns run by top global brand advertisers**.**

Notably, though, the results also showed a wide range of carbon emissions depending on the site and campaign. So, even if you fit into this specific cohort for comparison, it doesn’t mean this is the one and only indicator for whether your emissions are ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

What happens when the campaign variables change? Will there every be a single number we can look to as an industry when it comes to carbon emissions?

The short answer? If you’re looking for a true global benchmark for carbon emissions, there isn’t just one. Too many variables go into campaigns, which means that setting a global, all encompassing benchmark is unhelpful for driving change.

Diving deeper, it’s a matter of complexity: The challenge of establishing new benchmarks isn’t new to us — remember the early days addressing viewability and fraud? But, measuring carbon emissions will require a bit more specificity.

A number of factors make every campaign unique and when it comes to carbon, those factors impact emissions output at the impression level. In a sense, impressions are like snowflakes — each and every one is different. What are some of the factors to think about?

  • Inventory — the website or app an ad runs on plays a critical role in the total emissions of a campaign. In the Ebiquity study, we found the carbon emissions at the domain level to be broad, with domains ranging from 55.2 CO2PM all the way up to 4,782.8 CO2PM.
  • Channel — Consider display, social, video, audio, CTV. Each of those require and process different volumes of data and use up different amounts of energy, meaning they have a vastly different carbon footprint.
  • Market — Where the ads are served fires up different parts of the power grid. And further, different regions rely on different types of energy which also has an impact.

Now consider how many impressions are in each campaign. Think about how each campaign can consists of a broad mix of any and all these elements. That’s where it gets complicated to decisively use terms such as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ especially compared to one set number.

How then, do you think about emissions benchmarks? Media strategy is dynamic and our benchmarks need to be, too.

We have a wealth of data at our fingertips, so there’s no need to oversimplify and use one data point. We need specific, robust and granular data to make informed decisions. As we continue learn and refine the way we measure and analyze emissions, we then have a solid foundation to guide us in the right direction.

  • Use your internal goals as a starting point — Take a look at what sustainability goals your company has established. Carbon-neutral by 2030? Start from there and work your way backwards to determine your own benchmarks for achieving that goal.
  • Compare using specific metrics and data dimensions, rather than a global figure — Specificity is key and when trying to understand a campaign’s emissions. Using a variety of data points helps mitigate the risk for drawing conclusions from faulty comparisons. This includes getting as granular as geo/location, property/domain and channel, whether that be programmatic, social, CTV, etc.
  • Understand the nuance, don’t let it frustrate you — Don’t forget to consider all the differences in your campaigns and how that’s likely to change over time. This is new for everyone in the industry and as methodologies are refined and learnings emerge, the data is likely to continue to change.

Remember the end goal: At the end of the day, we’re all aiming for a collective goal — a net zero industry. This is achievable. Starting with measurement is a big first step, but the job isn’t done until real change is made and carbon emissions are reduced.

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