Should Brands be Wary of ‘Wokewashing’? Q&A with Good-Loop’s Amy Williams

Amy WilliamsBack in January UK-based ethical video advertising platform Good-Loop announced it has closed a £1.2 million seed round of funding, with brandtech company You & Mr Jones among the investors. The funding will help the company grow its unique ‘engage to donate’ ad format, and expand into new markets. VAN spoke with co-founder and chief executive Amy Williams to hear more about Good-Loop’s ambitions, and her take on brands’ moves to become more purpose-driven.

How did you come up with the idea for Good-Loop?

I started my career in creative advertising, I worked at Ogilvy where I worked on everything from social media campaigns to direct email comms to TV ads. And I ended up working on the Unilever account, when they were focusing more on their ‘doing well by doing good’ philosophy. 

They’d started to build these very interesting purpose-led brands, and they did a study which found that their brands which had some sort of social sustainable purpose to them grew fifty percent faster than the rest of the business. When I first read the study, I felt that was the part of my job that I was most excited about doing, was building brands which genuinely did some good in the world, and also ended up helping Unilever sell more stuff. The idea that you can get corporate to care about social good, and you can make social good profitable, inherently bakes so much scale into the impact.

We did one campaign with Unilever where we were saving one rinse per laundry load with one of their products. One rinse isn’t that big of a deal, but when it’s being sold in so many countries and families are doing laundry four or five times a week, it ends up saving more water than I’d ever use in a lifetime. And it was all of that work that I was doing that I was so excited by, while I was so unenthused by the rest of the industry.

But I felt that while purpose had gotten so much traction in the creative and strategic side of the business, the media side was getting left behind. All of the media budget was still just going to Google and Facebook, and the same old players funding the same old formats which actually put people off advertising. All the pervasive and negative behaviour that advertising was displaying felt very contradictory to what I was learning about purpose, and how to build a brand in a meaningful way.

That was the thought process, that there was an opportunity in media to use that positivity, and create something unique. But I was basically just a random individual with some PowerPoint slides and an idea!

So for the first year I was buying pretty much everyone I knew in the industry coffees, and getting them to pick holes in my idea, to suggest things, and to introduce me to others who might be interested. Eventually I posted a rough idea on this ‘work in start-ups’ form, looking for a partner:

I had about 100 responses, and one was this guy called Daniel [Winterstein, co-founder] who lived in Scotland, had a PhD in artificial intelligence, and had spent ten years building white-label ad tech. So I flew up to meet him, and we ended up founding a business together about three months after that.

How does Good-Loop work?

We distribute video ads programmatically into skippable ad formats. You can always skip the ad if you want to, but if you give the advertiser some of your time, then you unlock a donation funded by that advert, and you can choose a charity or cause to give it to. So for the user its an ‘engage to donate’ proposition, while from the advertisers’ point of view its about giving a positive and relevant incentive to get better engagement rates, better recall, and ultimately drive brand uplift.

So are CPMs higher to account for the fact that not all the money goes to the publishers?

It is a premium product, but it’s ultimately about getting better value from your dollar. We charge on a cost-per completed view model which massively reduces wastage, as the advertiser only pays if the user watches up to the fifteen second mark. The cost of the view isn’t extortionately higher than they’d pay on other platforms, but because we’re getting fewer people to skip, we’re getting paid more often. So ultimately we’re getting the media to work harder.

How have publishers taken to the platform?

We’ve talked a little bit with publishers, but it’s ebbed and flowed a bit to be honest. Initially our idea was to build a publisher facing product, because our whole thesis from the beginning has been to create a positive user experience, which is aligned with publishers’ aims. But we’ve found it’s the advertisers who have most bought into the idea of building brands with purpose, so we’ve pivoted the business to be more brand facing, and that’s brought us more scale. And because we work in IAB standard formats, we can just buy programmatically on a whitelist.

But we’re trying to bake those publisher relationships back into the business model, because the whole reason that online advertising exists is to fund the free internet, and that’s an important part of what we do. So we’re talking with some publishers about doing PMP deals, or about doing exclusive formats for their pages.

We’re also working with social channels now with a ‘swipe up to donate’ format that sits on Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook stories.

There’s some scepticism about how much brands really care about ethics in advertising, with some seemingly pulling spend from platforms which have faced brand safety crises, only to quietly return weeks later. Are brands really becoming more conscious of ethics?

I think there’s definitely a shift where advertisers are being held to stricter standards, and consumers are starting to understand more about how money flows through the advertising ecosystem. Movements like Stop Funding Hate or Sleeping Giants in the US wouldn’t have picked up the same traction if there wasn’t a general understanding from the public about how every time you see an advert, someone is benefiting from and profiting from your attention.

I was at an event last week where a speaker from Bank of America spoke for twenty minutes about how advertisers like himself have a responsibility to save journalism. I’d never heard a CMO talk about that side of the business before, he wasn’t focusing on performance from an advertising perspective, but on responsibility. So I’m seeing a shift across the board.

Are some brands starting to become more cautious about supporting causes out of fear of being accused of ‘greenwashing’ or ‘wokewashing’?

I think there is a little bit of hesitancy, and whenever a brand sticks their head above the parapet and tries to do something good, it’s incredibly tempting to rip them down. The easyJet example is a good one, where they announced they were going to do carbon offsetting on their flights, being the first low-cost airline to do that. For a cheap airline which doesn’t operate on any sort of premium brand positioning, that was a big move.

It was received both ways by the public, and there were some saying it wasn’t enough, and that they weren’t offsetting the whole flight to it was basically greenwashing. But after easyJet announced it, JetBlue in the US followed suit, so suddenly you’ve got two new airlines carbon offsetting which previously hadn’t been.

So I would argue that although they could have done more, they made a positive first step. And expecting everyone to be perfect is the absolute enemy of change.

I always tell brands to think about the places they can have the most authoritative impact. It’s meaningful for easyJet to talk about carbon emissions because they’re such a big contributor. It was meaningful for Gillette to talk about toxic masculinity because a lot of their advertising was based on masculinity, which helped shape some of the things they’re now trying to change.

What’s on the horizon for Good-Loop now you’ve completed your seed round?

Through our seed round we’ve picked up a nice range of investors who add a lot of value beyond cash. So David Jones from You & Mr Jones, ex-CEO from Havas, has a really strong network both in the UK and the US, and that’ll be useful as New York is a big focus for us.

And then we’re also looking at further developing the programmatic side of the business. At the moment about 70 percent of our campaigns are run as a managed service, which is still all run through real-time bidding, but is managed by our team in-house. So we’re looking to make it more streamlined and in-line with how agencies are buying.

And the other thing we’re thinking about is how we can codify the impact that’s being delivered. When we ran a campaign with H&M we planted 25,000 trees in the UK, and those sorts of stats are so powerful that we want to be able to deliver them back to the client in a way they can champion and share on social media.

As investment in ad tech has somewhat dried up in recent years, do you think ethical ad tech might be one area which still attracts attention?

I definitely see growth in the philanthropic tech sector more broadly. There’s an app called Momentum which is picking up traction in the US which allows people to donate to charities based on real world events. So a user could for example set a ‘give’ instruction where every time Donald Trump tweets, they give two pence to Amnesty International. It’s a fun, seamless way of doing some good.

There’s another one called charity mile where you give money every time you go for a run. It’s advertising funded, so you look at an ad before you start your drop, and then it tracks you while you run, and for every mile you run you unlock a donation. It’s great for advertisers because it’s a full screen takeover and it’s super high value real estate.

I think these ways of tying brands, causes, and people together are going to keep growing. Consumers are there for it, there’s a hunger to feel like the brands they’re buying into reflect their values. 

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