Corporate culture has a big impact on creative output. It has been proven that diversified teams deliver better results across different industries and media. The advertising industry is no exception. But it is still a long way to go before it is implemented.
What happens when it comes to disseminating the ideas that have been developed? How is this creative message played out? Much of it today is based on algorithms and data platforms: Does it matter who programs these algorithms? I think so.
The problem of the so-called “algorithmic bias” is not new, but affects the advertising industry particularly strong. The “algorithmic bias” means that an algorithm can only decide and classify as well as its programming allows. For example, if a programmer determines that advertisements are particularly important to a particular audience, the algorithm can not break this rule and will follow the programmer’s decision.
Technology platforms today have a creative responsibility
Our dependence on technology platforms for the digital distribution of ads is growing very fast. IPG Mediabrand’s latest Magna report predicts a growth in digital media of 10 percent in 2018 percent in 2018, according to this advertiser, which invested 21.3 billion euros in the entire advertising industry last year. And why should not we continue to invest in digital channels in the future if we know that consumers are spending more and more time there?
According to the Postbank Digital Study 2018, Germans spend 46 hours a week on the Internet today – more than the average weekly working time. Above all, technology platforms have to pay attention to how the consumer perceives the advertised advertising, regardless of whether it is about increasing brand awareness or selling directly. The goal must be to create more relevant and less intrusive advertising, so that the disgust with the ads does not increase even further.
A recent Forbes article places this discussion in a global context. It describes the role of diversity in companies as a compulsory requirement, so that the development of algorithms, for example, by biased programmers does not create multiplier effects and does not exacerbate the differences between classes, genders and ethnic groups. Currently, for example, the technologies for face recognition are discussed in this regard: If the software works for male and white persons to 99% error-free, the error rate is higher, the darker the skin type. It is noticeable that the worst results are achieved in black women.
A diversified knowledge base, from which new ideas spring, can only lead to more good ideas, not less.
If we look at Silicon Valley, we see successful companies that have laid their foundations a few years earlier, at a time when there were few programmers and they were almost exclusively white men. Unfortunately, however, this idea has held and established a certain “Bro-Culture”.
Emily Chang has clearly described in her book “Brotopia” how Silicon Valley believes it has found the perfect solution for “Rockstar Leader” a la Steve Jobs and “geek” engineers. This male-dominated “Bro-Culture” is a bigger problem than we would initially suspect. We all interact daily with advertising on the net. If the platforms that produce such ads were essentially developed by a very small group that is not representative of the world’s population, that should make us think.
Ethical pitfalls of technology and their avoidance
The biggest scandal in the recent past is certainly the exchange of data between Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. Here, the personal data of the users was given little or no respect. Even though the behavior should be covered by general terms and conditions and legal formulations, the industry must ask itself whether it would like to promote this behavior. The DSGVO was designed to give users more clarity about what data companies use and what they do. This gives users more control over their own data.
In particular, users have lost confidence that the ways and means of using their data have not been transparent and do not see how users are specifically targeted on brand platforms. Transparency is crucial here when brands and consumers want to rebuild a respectful relationship. Platforms must play a mediating role and offer access instead of commercializing it themselves.
If diverse teams are working on technological developments in the long run, not only will more creative results emerge, but also the diverse perspectives of the team members, a critical and indeed diverse discussion of the topics. Teams of people of the same background, education, ethnicity and age will only produce homogeneous thinking. That’s the last thing you expect from creative teams, so why should that be different in technology development?
What is the solution?
Unfortunately, there is no quick fix. However, the most promising approaches begin with a regulation from above. We have seen that success is possible when governments act. Norway introduced a law in 2003 requiring companies in all sectors to fill at least 40 percent of executive board positions with women, and since 2006 has imposed regulatory non-compliance.
After an initial grace period of two years for existing companies, failing to reach the 40 percent rate would, in the worst case scenario, lead to a loss of the company’s stock market listing. But do governments really need to guarantee the enforcement of diversity in the technology industry and beyond? Should we now be actively lobbying in California to experience a paradigm shift in Silicon Valley? What about companies that relocate their headquarters or are generally active in other countries?
From an entrepreneurial point of view, we need to show companies what gender balance is all about in addition to meeting criteria such as a women’s quota and increasing margins. For example, it has been proven that having a job in a diverse team creates a more comfortable work environment and reduces staff turnover. It also promotes innovation and improves overall creative performance. This is not least a decisive competitive advantage for the companies. The employees are happier and the services that can be offered are better. If employees can live a lively exchange of ideas and bring in their diverse qualities, this results in great things.
We ourselves must take the responsibility to determine how technology companies should be set up and run in the future. Once we have made that conscious and anchored in our minds, we have to put it into practice. In no case may we fall into a “preach water and drink wine” scheme. We ourselves need to ensure that, for example, our recruitment processes are free, open and without prejudice so that we attract the widest possible range of talent possible.
Technology companies have an ethical responsibility for what they create. The technology giants also have a social responsibility. Accepting this responsibility therefore also means living the idea of a diverse workforce. For only if the team from management to executive power is actually set up according to these principles can the best possible results be created for the users – users like you and me.
The distortion due to the lack of diversity in the technique is real, but it can be overcome. Let us challenge the status quo and make technology better for everyone.
To the author: Paul Wright is CEO of iotec. He has more than 30 years of marketing experience, has worked for Sky in the very first advertising sales team and has worked and been involved with several digital startups Director of International at iAd, Apple’s Mobile Ad Platform.