Study finds that ads are often run on websites with high carbon emissions but low returns

Marketers often run digital ads on websites that offer relatively low returns on their investment but generate relatively high carbon emissions, said a new study.

Roughly 15% of ad spending in the study went to so-called ad-dedicated sites, which clutter the screen with ads and low-quality content, according to the companies behind the report, media investment analysis firm Ebiquity PLC and Scope3 PBC. , which measures the carbon footprint of digital advertising. The companies said that these placements are done unintentionally and that the brands do not seek to advertise on these sites.

The study examined 116 billion impressions of digital display ads worth $375 million from 43 advertisers in 11 global markets in 2021 and 2022, and estimated the energy needed to deliver an impression by looking at factors such as auctions and emissions from the end user. device.

The companies’ goal was to give brands a better sense of their environmental impact through their digital advertising and to suggest ways to reallocate advertising budgets. For web publishers with lower carbon footprint, they said.

Concerns are growing in some corners of digital advertising about the carbon footprint of the industry. Business consumes so much energy, which results in carbon emissions, that many websites run automated auctions of various ad space every time a consumer lands on one of their pages. Sites often include ad technology intermediaries who provide services such as matching marketers to specific target audiences.

It is difficult to calculate how much electricity online advertising consumes, but a study published in 2018 estimated that 10% of the Internet’s energy use is caused by online advertising.

Industry players are starting to explore ways businesses can use less energy. Ebiquity and Scope3 say one way to reduce emissions is to work to prevent marketers’ ads from appearing on “dedicated advertising” sites. Consumer experience on these sites is poor, Ebiquity said in a July report, as is the effectiveness of advertising on them.

“In most cases, the content is either ripped or pirated from genuine sites, or it’s AI-generated and it’s just awful,” said Robin Shrewers, chief product officer at Ebiquity.

Grams of carbon dioxide and equivalent greenhouse gas emissions per 1,000 ad impressions averaged 52% lower on certain news sites — those deemed “authoritative” by the Global Disinformation Index, a nonprofit organization that ranks news organizations based on their likelihood of publishing. Clearly misinformation – from sites designed to advertise, because they run more auctions and have more tracking technology, Mr Shrewers said.

The companies said they recommend reallocating the investment to high-quality journalism.

Brian O’Kelley, an ad technology veteran who co-founded Scope3 and is its CEO, said the company is developing standards for brands to help identify where online advertising emissions are and how to improve their performance.

“This allows brands to cut high-carbon websites designed to advertise their campaigns and influence legitimate publishers with high-carbon footprints to clean up their supply chain,” said Mr. O’Kelly.

Publishers can also use this type of information to reduce the complexity of their supply chains as advertisers try to use more low carbon publishers in media planning and purchasing.

The candy and pet food maker works with its agencies and partners to determine how much waste or greenhouse gases its digital advertising produces, said Ron Amram, senior director of global media for Mars, one of the study participants. Before creating tools and capabilities that can help make purchasing and advertising planning more environmentally friendly.

“You have to understand where the waste is, where the issues are,” said Mr. Amram. “The only way to do that is to do a broad assessment and share that information with experts to create a formal view, and that’s the stage we’re at right now.”

Evidence that large amounts of spending will go to wasteful sites that emit large amounts of carbon should be useful to advertisers, said Mikko Kotila, one of the researchers on the 2018 study.

“If this isn’t enough for advertisers to get serious about reducing waste, it’s hard to see what will,” he said.

Other groups are working on different approaches to measuring carbon emissions in advertising. Mr. Kotila was previously the chief technology officer of Cavai, a Norwegian advertising technology company that aims to tell advertisers how much energy it takes to serve and display each ad.

But Mr. Kotila and fellow researcher Tommy Torjesen, founder and chief product officer at Cavai, said marketers should be careful as they delve into claims of companies offering solutions to carbon emissions in advertising.

“Everyone has a solution. So there is a lot of good marketing talk. But if you dig deeper into the various claims, a lot of them are not legitimate,” said Mr. Torgesen.

Money is a sticking point in climate change negotiations around the world. As economists warn that limiting global warming to 1.5°C will cost trillions more than expected, the Wall Street Journal looks at how the money will be spent, and who will pay. Illustration: Preston Jesse/The Wall Street Journal

Write to Megan Graham at [email protected]

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