The problem of annual digital waste created by marketers and advertisers is growing. What is the source of the problem?
A sustainability crisis overshadows the marketing and advertising landscape, jeopardising the very essence of ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) initiatives.
The scale of digital waste created by marketers and advertisers is mounting, and it isn't just money that these companies are wasting. The evnvironmental footprint of all those unseen ads is significant, as the proportion of global CO2 emissions accounted for by datacentres continues to grow.
The culprit? Complex and convoluted tech stacks.
Marketers face tech races on multiple fronts to keep up with the consumer. New social platforms such as Meta's Threads continue to pop up, while generative AI is already creating huge volumes of content. With so much duplication, tonnes of unnecessary CO2 emissions are being added to the growing volumes of GHGs.
In an attempt to keep up, businesses have poured millions of pounds into different MarTech platforms, plug-in software, and other bits of kit. The average marketers now use six different platforms according to a recent report. The problem is, that many of these platforms don't effectively work or communicate with each other.
Rather than improving results, intricate tech stacks have clouded the waters. Redundant efforts to create more content to satisfy the ever-increasing demand of audiences on various platforms and the lack of ability to repurpose existing assets and resources are now recurring themes in the marketing and advertising sphere.
This inefficiency strains budgets and grows carbon footprint, driven by duplicated processes, excess effort, and redundant technologies. The outcome: an incoherent and mismanaged tech stack emitting a perpetual stream of environmental waste.
The industry is still in the early stages of addressing the issue, but tech leaders can help make long-term changes that can improve results and the environment.
What is causing the digital waste crisis?
The digital waste crisis can be attributed, in substantial part, to two core reasons. Fragmented systems have made accurate tracking of marketing campaigns and advertisements nearly impossible. Meanwhile, ad-hoc MarTech acquisitions, intended to rectify the issue, have shown mixed results while expanding carbon footprints.
First, businesses speak through their content, then they should listen through data. But with several different platforms that don't communicate with one another, from marketing automation systems and CRMs to DSPs and programmatic advertising tools, there's simply too much noise to try and make sense of data.
From Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, "X" and now Threads, alongside email, SMS, display, digital out-of-home (OOH) and endless more - audiences are being targeted in every and any way possible. Throw ChatGPT (other generative AI is available) into the mix and it's no wonder companies are drowning in both content and data.
A particularly sobering fact is that advertisers can't even be sure their content is seen - let alone seen by the intended audience. 31% of online ads are seen or heard by literally noone. The environmental impact of this inefficiency is causing serious damage, with ‘ghost ads' generating carbon equivalent to a roundtrip from London to Boston.
There is clearly scope for improvement.
Empowering tech leaders to make a stand
Tech leaders can initiate change by redefining how MarTech platforms are integrated within marketing and advertising teams. Current strategies lack the necessary governance and overarching framework that joins everything together.
To change this, tech leaders need to go back to basics. To make better use of data, we need to start by looking at how teams can better classify, organise, and analyse the critical information that drives everything they do - in other words, better taxonomy.
Taxonomy in content creation involves strategically categorizing and labelling information to enhance discoverability and create a more organized and user-friendly reading experience. Although taxonomy is more commonly associated with tracking codes, its development within MarTech has seen it applied to everything from products and digital assets to customer demographics and targeted campaigns.
The idea is that by categorising the sheer amount of information marketers and advertisers have at their fingertips, we can start to remove data silos. Marketers will be able to find and discover assets that can be reused/repurposed, thus reducing waste and improving efficiency, and ultimately applying budgets more effectively.
Tech for good
The MarTech waste crisis won't stay silent for much longer. Businesses and consumers are becoming more aware of marketing and advertising's impact on the wider environment, which will eventually bring consequences beyond ineffective campaigns.
MarTech itself isn't the problem. How platforms and technology are used is. By developing a better understanding of data and building better connections between platforms, tech and marketing leaders can reduce waste and become key enablers of sustainable technology.