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Major brands commit to mitigating adtech bias

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Major brands commit to mitigating adtech bias

Major brands, including IBM, Delta Airlines and WPP, as well as the IAB and the Ad Council, have publicly committed to raising awareness about, and mitigating, bias in adtech. The announcement came at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. IBM is encouraging brands to take the Advertising Fairness Pledge.

The initiative builds on research conducted in 2021 by IBM Watson Advertising that showed bias — often unintentional — being scaled and iterated by automated adtech processes. IBM also announced the release of the open source, extensible AI Fairness 360 toolkit including metrics to test datasets for bias, as well as algorithms to mitigate that bias.

What this means. We spoke to Sheri Bachstein, CEO of The Weather Company and GM of IBM Watson Advertising, about the background and implications of the announcement. “We set out on a research project about a year ago, looking at bias in advertising. We did it because, as IBM, we have a fairness toolkit that we have used in other industries and we were curious if this toolkit would be applicable to advertising.”

Using Ad Council data, and 75 metrics, IBM was able to demonstrate that it could identify bias in advertising at scale. “We were able to use one of the thirteen algorithms that are part of this toolkit to mitigate that bias.” At Cannes, IBM is asking brands, agencies and adtech companies to acknowledge that the problem exists and to pledge to help with mitigation.

“We’re at a really interesting point in the industry,” said Bachstein. “We’re having to rebuild it because of privacy, identifier changes, cookies and so forth; so as we’re rebuilding our industry, let’s rebuild it right.”

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Read next: Measuring diversity in advertising — a challenge of scale

Why we care. We care about advertising bias not just because it constitutes a disservice to many audiences, but because those audiences are important and brands need to reach them with the right messages.

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One challenge many brands face is the sheer scale of their marketing efforts — especially brands with distributed marketing organizations, numerous brand partnerships and global audiences. It’s quite possible to serve biased ads without knowing it’s happening. Automation is going to be essential to analyze and improve advertising at scale. IBM Watson is well positioned to be a leader in this initiative.


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About The Author

Kim Davis is the Editorial Director of MarTech. Born in London, but a New Yorker for over two decades, Kim started covering enterprise software ten years ago. His experience encompasses SaaS for the enterprise, digital- ad data-driven urban planning, and applications of SaaS, digital technology, and data in the marketing space.

He first wrote about marketing technology as editor of Haymarket’s The Hub, a dedicated marketing tech website, which subsequently became a channel on the established direct marketing brand DMN. Kim joined DMN proper in 2016, as a senior editor, becoming Executive Editor, then Editor-in-Chief a position he held until January 2020.

Prior to working in tech journalism, Kim was Associate Editor at a New York Times hyper-local news site, The Local: East Village, and has previously worked as an editor of an academic publication, and as a music journalist. He has written hundreds of New York restaurant reviews for a personal blog, and has been an occasional guest contributor to Eater.

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How clean, organized and actionable is your data?

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90% of marketers say their CDP doesn't meet current business needs

A customer data platform (CDP) centralizes an organization’s customer data, providing a single 360-view of each consumer that engages with the company. Yet there are still data-related considerations that organizations have to make beyond what the CDP does.

“[CDPs] were designed to fill a need – to enable a marketer to easily get to the data they need to create their segmentation and then go on and mark it from that point,” said George Corugedo, CTO of data management company Redpoint Global, at The MarTech Conference. “But the issue is that CDPs really don’t take care of the quality aspects of the data.”

Maintaining data quality also impacts segmentation, campaigns and privacy compliance challenges for marketing teams that use this data.

Data quality

The data in a CDP depends on the quality of where it came from. Therefore, an organization using a CDP must also consider the quality of the data sources and reference files used to build out the CDP.

“The inevitable question is going to be, how good is this data?” said Corugedo. “How much can I trust it to make a bold decision?”

This is something that has to be on every organization’s radar. For instance, when identity resolution is used, the issue depends on the quality of the third-party reference files. If they are provided by a telecommunications company or credit bureau as the data partner, those files might only be updated quarterly.

“It’s just not an optimal solution, but every single CDP on the market uses some form of reference file,” Corugedo stated.

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It’s up to the data scientists and other team members working within the organization to own the accuracy of these data sources.

See also  How to Detect and Eradicate Bias in Natural Language Processing (NLP)?

Read next: What is a CDP?

Segmentation and other actions

The quality of the data using specific reference files and sources will vary and will impact the confidence that marketers have in creating segments and using them when deploying campaigns.

Marketers have to make this decision at a granular level, based on the trustworthiness of data from a particular lineage.

“If they have a campaign that is reliant on suspect data, they can actually delay that campaign and say maybe we wait until that data gets refreshed,” said Corugedo.

Otherwise, marketers are just “spraying and praying.”

Using rules instead of lists

The advantage of having a CDP is unification of all data. But the data is being updated all the time. Instead of deploying campaigns based on a fixed list of customers, the use of rules to define segments allows marketers to update who they engage in the campaign.

“A list, as soon as it’s detached from the database, starts to decay because it doesn’t get any updates anymore,” Corugedo, adding that using lists takes longer to execute a campaign.

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Lower quality from data that isn’t updated can have serious implications for healthcare and other industries, where accuracy is essential. 

“Instead, rules are passed through the campaign just like they would be with a list, but those rules reevaluate every time there’s a decision point to make sure that only the qualified people get the particular content at that point,” Corugedo explained.


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Privacy and regulatory compliance

Maintaining data quality through a Redpoint Global dashboard, or a similar combination of tools and data personnel, will also help an organization manage privacy.

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The crucial point is that people on the team know where the data came from and how it’s being used in campaigns. The stakes for sending out relevant messaging are high. Privacy and compliance issues raise the bar even higher.

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If you’re using a CDP, you can save headaches and extra labor by using a tool that has compliance and privacy baked in, so to speak.

“What we’ve done is embrace some of this complexity and absorb it into the environment, so the marketer never even sees it,” said Corugedo. “What we do is with every implementation, we will implement a PII vault that keeps PII data super secure, and we can anonymize the marketing database.”

This way, personal information of individual customers (PII) is never violated.

“Marketers ultimately don’t necessarily need to have visibility to PII,” Corugedo explained “They like to see it for testing purposes and making sure that it looks right and everything, but the truth is we can do that in other ways without revealing PII.”

Having a handle on data quality adds to the confidence marketing teams have in creating segments and executing campaigns, and it can also help protect the customer’s privacy and guard against regulatory infringements.

Facts not fiction: Beyond the CDP from Third Door Media on Vimeo.

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About The Author

Chris Wood draws on over 15 years of reporting experience as a B2B editor and journalist. At DMN, he served as associate editor, offering original analysis on the evolving marketing tech landscape. He has interviewed leaders in tech and policy, from Canva CEO Melanie Perkins, to former Cisco CEO John Chambers, and Vivek Kundra, appointed by Barack Obama as the country’s first federal CIO. He is especially interested in how new technologies, including voice and blockchain, are disrupting the marketing world as we know it. In 2019, he moderated a panel on “innovation theater” at Fintech Inn, in Vilnius. In addition to his marketing-focused reporting in industry trades like Robotics Trends, Modern Brewery Age and AdNation News, Wood has also written for KIRKUS, and contributes fiction, criticism and poetry to several leading book blogs. He studied English at Fairfield University, and was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. He lives in New York.

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