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‘Greenwashing’: a new climate misinformation battleground

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Many companies have vowed to reach "net zero" by 2050, but they are advertising and lobbying for more drilling and burning of the fossil fuels that are heating the Earth's surface

Many companies have vowed to reach “net zero” by 2050, but they are advertising and lobbying for more drilling and burning of the fossil fuels that are heating the Earth’s surface – Copyright AFP –

Roland LLOYD PARRY

Fossil fuel firms are misleading the public about their moves to cut greenhouse gases and curb climate change — and social media are hosting ads that perpetuate this “greenwashing”, researchers say.

AFP Fact Check took an in-depth look at how this is happening. The full report, including lobbying and communications fact boxes on 10 top oil and gas companies, is at http://u.afp.com/wDuA.

– Talking the talk –

Many companies have vowed to reach the “net zero” level of greenhouse gas emissions needed to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius under the Paris climate accords, the threshold established by scientists for avoiding the worst impacts.

At the same time, research shows, they are advertising and lobbying for more drilling and burning of the fossil fuels that are heating the Earth’s surface.

Leaders and businesspeople agree that changing how we warm our homes and power industries is no simple task.

But critics say the gap between slogans and action undermines meaningful efforts to cut emissions.

In a study published by the open-access science journal PLOS, scientists analysed the gap between talk and deeds on climate and low-carbon energy by four big oil companies: BP, Shell, ExxonMobil and Chevron.

Their green strategies “are dominated by pledges rather than concrete actions,” concluded the study, under lead author Mei Li of Tohoku University in Japan.

“Until actions and investment behaviour are brought into alignment with discourse, accusations of greenwashing appear well-founded.”

A search on the Facebook pages of big oil and gas firms and the social platform’s Ad Library shows that companies are posting green slogans while also running ads urging customers to “fill up your tank” or win “a year’s worth of gasoline”.

Contacted by AFP, the companies detailed plans to develop lower-carbon energy sources and measures such as carbon capture and storage — a method currently not advanced enough to be very helpful, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

ExxonMobil and Chevron spokespeople insisted that due to energy demand, the scenarios foreseen by the Paris deal and the IEA mean fossil fuels will have to play a part in the transition.

–  Walking the walk –

Watchdogs also see greenwashing in environment-friendly but limited gestures by firms that campaigners say distract attention from their climate-harming operations.

Digital monitor Eco-Bot.net monitors cases where an online post “selectively discloses the company’s credentials or portrays symbolic actions to build a friendly brand image.”

It flagged ads and posts on protecting silkworms (Mexican cement firm Cemex), frogs (gas firm TransCanada), possums (Eletronuclear, subsidiary of Brazilian power firm Eletrobras), forests (various companies, including Spanish oil company Repsol) and one by US giant ExxonMobil on recycling fishing ropes in Patagonia.

New York-based greenwashing researcher Genevieve Guenther told AFP the key is to measure pledges against two standards: the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) net-zero date of 2050 and the IEA’s clean 2021 energy transition roadmap.

The latter says that to meet the 2050 target there would have to be “no investment in new fossil fuel supply projects” from now on. Any company planning new investments while also trumpeting net zero targets, Guenther said, is guilty of greenwashing.

– Delaying tactics –

An analysis by London-based research group InfluenceMap showed the five biggest publicly traded oil and gas companies spent $1 billion over three years to push misleading climate messages on Facebook.

Such amounts are small compared to the billions in revenues of Big Tech and Big Oil — for the latter, the two biggest US companies swung into combined profits of over $38 billion in 2021.

But pushing messages via social media has an outsize impact, said Melissa Aronczyk, an associate communications professor at Rutger University who has co-authored several studies on the subject.

“It is very easy and inexpensive to produce ads and campaigns for social media that can have a massive effect,” she told AFP.

Facebook says it monitors ads for misleading content just as it does with other forms of information on its platforms.

InfluenceMap analysed thousands of documents “to build up a very detailed picture of how major companies and industry groups are engaging on climate policy and how they are trying to influence debate,” said program manager Faye Holder.

“This greenwashing is essentially a tactic to delay government regulation. It also has the potential to mislead the public, by convincing them that action is already being taken on climate while Big Oil continues to lobby behind the scenes for new oil and gas development.”

In the United States, a Democrat-led committee has been hounding the big oil firms over their lobbying.

“Much of the lobbying has been indirectly done, cleverly, skilfully, cynically done by industry trade groups that have been formed by these companies,” Democratic congressman John Sarbanes told the committee on February 8.

“It is often very hard to disentangle the web of relationships and the sources of funding.”

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Publicis Performance Marketing Unit Acquires Influencer Platform Perlu 01/30/2023

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Publicis Performance Marketing Unit Acquires Influencer Platform Perlu 01/30/2023

Publicis Groupe-owned performance marketing agency CJ, which specializes in affiliate marketing, has acquired Perlu, a Syracuse, New York-based influencer networking and technology platform.
Perlu’s platform enables companies to activate, network, and collaborate with a community of influencers.   

Perlu will initially retain its name and organization as it is
integrated …



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Reports Show that Facebook Usage is Up, as Meta Continues to Develop its AI Targeting Models

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Reports Show that Facebook Usage is Up, as Meta Continues to Develop its AI Targeting Models

While Facebook is no longer the cool app, especially among younger audiences, it remains a key platform for many users, and its capacity to keep people updated on important updates from friends and family is likely to ensure that many continue to return to the app every day for some time yet.

But more than that, Facebook usage is actually increasing, according to internal insights viewed by The Wall Street Journal, which also include some interesting notes on overall Facebook and Instagram usage trends.

As per WSJ:

Data gathered in the middle of the fourth quarter showed that time spent on [Facebook] was up worldwide, including in developed markets, over the course of a year.”

Which seems unusual, given the subsequent rise of TikTok, and short form video more generally. But actually, Facebook has been able to successfully use the short-form video trend to drive more usage – despite much criticism of the platform’s copycat Reels feature.

Indeed, Reels consumption is up 20%, and has become a key element in Meta’s resurgence.  

How is it finding success? Increased investment in AI, which has driven big improvements in the relevance models that fuel both Reels and its ads, which are also now driving better response.

On Reels, Meta’s systems are getting much better at showing users the Reels content that they’re most likely to be interested in. You’ve likely noticed this yourself – what was initially a mess of random clips inserted into your Facebook feed has now become more focused, and you’re probably finding yourself expanding a Reels clip every now and then, just to see what it’s about.

Reels has actually been too successful:

“Because ads in Reels videos don’t currently sell for as much as those sold against regular posts and stories, Reels’ growing share of content consumption was denting ad revenue. To protect the company’s earnings, the company cut back on promoting Reels, which lowered watch time by 12%.

So again, while Meta has been criticized for stealing TikTok’s format, it’s once again shown, just as it did with Stories, that this is a viable and beneficial pathway to keeping users engaged in its apps.

You might not like it, but replication works in this respect.

But for marketers, it’s likely the development of Meta’s AI targeting tools for ads that’s of most interest.

Over time, many performance advertisers have been increasingly recommending that marketers trust Meta’s AI targeting, with newer offerings like Advantage+ driving strong results, with far less manual targeting effort.

Advantage+ puts almost total trust in Meta’s AI targeting systems. You can choose a couple of targeting options for your campaigns, but for the most part, the process is designed to limit manual impact, in order to let Meta’s systems determine the right audience for your ads.

Which may feel like you’re ceding too much control, but according to Meta, its continued AI investment is now driving better results.

Heavy investment in artificial intelligence tools has enabled the company to improve ad-targeting systems to make better predictions based on less data, according to the interviews and documents […] That, along with shifting to forms of advertising less dependent on harvesting user data from off its platforms, are key to the company’s plans to overcome an Apple privacy change that restricted Meta’s capacity to gather information about what its users do outside its platforms’ walls, the documents show.”

That’s likely worth considering in your process, putting more trust in Meta’s targeting systems to drive better results. At the least, it may be worth experimenting with Meta’s evolving AI for ad targeting. 

It’s not all good news. Meta also notes that while time spent in its apps is on the rise, creation and engagement is declining, with fewer people posting to both Facebook and Instagram than they have in the past.

That’s particularly true among younger audiences, while notably, usage of Instagram Stories is also in decline, down 10% on previous levels.

So while Meta is driving more engagement from Reels, which draws on content from across the app, as opposed to the people and Pages you follow, that’s also led to a decline in user posting.

Is that a bad thing? I mean, logically, engagement is important in keeping people interested in the app, and Meta also relies on those signals to help refine its ad targeting. So it does need users to be sharing their own content too, but if it can get more people spending more time in its apps, that will help it maintain advertiser interest.

In essence, despite all of the reports of Facebook’s demise, it remains a key connective platform, in various ways, while Meta’s improving ad targeting systems are also helping to drive better results, which will keep it as a staple for brands moving forward.

If you were thinking of diversifying your social media marketing spend this year, maybe don’t reduce Facebook investment just yet.

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Effective Ways To Personalize Your Customer Touch Points Even More In 2023

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Effective Ways To Personalize Your Customer Touch Points Even More In 2023

Will 2023 be the year of personalization? Consumers hope so. For the past two years, shoppers have been craving the personal touch: In 2021, McKinsey & Company noted that 71% of customers expected companies to deliver personalization. In 2022, a Salesforce survey found that 73% of people expected brands to understand their needs and expectations. So, this year is looking like one where personalization can no longer be seen as a “nice to have.”

The problem, of course, is how to get more personalized. Many companies have already started to dabble in this. They greet shoppers by name on landing pages. They rely on CRMs and other tools to use historical information to send shoppers customized recommendations. They offer personalized, real-time discounts to help buyers convert their abandoned shopping cart items to actual purchases.

These are all great ideas. The only problem is that they’ve become widespread. They don’t move the needle on the customer experience anymore. Instead, they’re standard, expected, and kind of forgettable. That doesn’t mean you can afford to stop doing them. It just means you must devise other ways to pepper personalization throughout your consumer interactions.

If you are scratching your head on how to outdo 2022’s personalization in 2023, try implementing the following strategies:

1. Go for full-blown engagement on social media.

One easy way to give the personal touch is through your social media business pages. Social media use just keeps growing. In 2022, there were about 266 million monthly active users (or MUAs) on Facebook, one billion on Instagram, and 755 million on TikTok. Not all these active users will fall into your target audiences, but plenty of them will.

Make engaging with your social followers one of this year’s goals. People spend a lot of time on social media. It’s where many of them “live,” so it only makes sense that it should be a place to drive personalization.

One quick way to ratchet up your company’s personal touch on social media is to personalize all your retargeted ads. Quizzes can also offer a chance for personalization. Simply set up an engaging quiz and allow people to share their results. It’s a fun way to build brand recognition and bond with consumers. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with going very personal and answering all comments. Depending on your team’s size and the number of comments you receive, this might be a viable option.

2. Leverage AI to go beyond basic demographics.

Most companies rely on customer demographic information to bolster personalization efforts. The only trouble with this tactic is that demographics can’t tell the whole story. It’s impossible to get a lot of context about individual users (such as their lifestyles, personal preferences, and motivators) just from knowing their age, gender, or location. Though demographic data is beneficial, it can cause some significant misses.

Michael Scharff, CEO and cofounder of Evolv AI, explains the workaround for this problem: “The most natural, and therefore productive, personalization efforts use demographics as a foundation and then layer in user likes, dislikes, behaviors, and values.”

You can leverage AI’s predictive and insightful capabilities to uncover real-time user insights. Scharff recommends this technique because it allows you to stay in sync with the fast-moving pace of consumer behavior changes. He adds that AI can be particularly beneficial with the coming limits to third-party cookie access because it can be a first-party data source, allowing you to maintain customer knowledge and connection.

To flesh out your organization’s strategy, look to other companies that have gone beyond demographics. Take Netflix, for example, which constantly tweaks its AI algorithm to help improve personalized content recommendations. Bottom line? Going deeper than surface information makes all the sense in the world if you want to show customers you know them well.

3. Keep your data spotless.

The better your data, the better your personalization efforts. Period. Unfortunately, you are probably sitting on a lot of unstructured or otherwise tricky-to-use (or impossible-to-use) data. One recent Great Expectations survey revealed that 77% of data practitioners have data quality problems, and 91% say that this is wreaking havoc on their companies’ performance.

You can’t personalize anything with corrupt or questionable data. So, do your best to find ways to clean your data promptly and routinely. For example, you might want to invest in a more centralized data system, particularly if the personalization data you rely on is scattered in various places. Having one repository of data truth makes it easier to know if the information on hand is ready to use.

Another way to tame your data is to automate as many data processes as possible. Reducing manual manipulation of data lessens the chance of human error. And you’ll feel more confident with all your personalization efforts if you can trust the reliability and health of your data.

4. Go for nontechnical personalization.

It’s the digital age, but that doesn’t mean every touchpoint has to be digitized. Consumers often react with delight and positivity when they receive personalization in decidedly nontech forms. (Yes, you can use tech to keep track of everything. Just don’t make it part of the actual personalized exchange!)

Consider writing handwritten thank-you notes to customers after they’ve called in for support or emailed your team, for instance. Or send an extra personalized gift to buyers who make a specific number of purchases. These interactions aren’t technical but can differentiate your customer experience from your competitors’ experiences.

A groundbreaking Deloitte snapshot taken right before the pandemic showed that people were hungry for connection. By folding nondigital experiences into your personalization with customers, you’re showing them that you see them first as valued humans. That’s compelling and appealing, making them more apt to give you their loyalty in return.

Putting a personal spin on all your consumer interactions takes a little time. It’s worth your energy, though. You’ll wind up with stronger brand-buyer connections, helping you edge ahead of your competitors even more.

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