Skip to main content

Launching the Conscious Advertising Network to make transparent media a reality | Jake Dubbins

by Jake Dubbins - January, 2019


Jake Dubbins of Media Bounty and the Conscious Advertising Network speaks at the UN Compact on Migration, Marrakesh, December 2018

Jake Dubbins speaks at the UN Compact on Migration, Marrakesh, December 2018

The 2010’s have not seen the advertising industry cover itself with glory, says Jake Dubbins, MD of Media Bounty and co-chair of the Conscious Advertising Network.

It is now nearly three years since the ANA released its landmark report into the lack of transparency in media. The K2 intelligence study found rebates and incentives offered by media owners and DSPs were being retained by agencies rather than passed back to the advertisers.

It is two years since The Times ran an investigation demonstrating that big brands were inadvertently advertising next to content by extremists, pornographers and white supremacists.

In 2015 the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called out an article by Katie Hopkins in The Sun. It labelled migrants ‘cockroaches’ and suggested those fleeing warzones should be confronted by ‘gunships’. Many brands including Lego and The Body Shop pulled their advertising.

You would have thought in the last two years, the industry may have had a collective awakening and said enough is enough.

Despite some great work from ISBA, JICWEBS, the IAB, the WFA and others, the industry is still mired in similar problems.


This is the backdrop that led Harriet Kingaby and I to set up the Conscious Advertising Network (CAN). We believe that it is now time for ethics to catch up with the technology of modern advertising. Brands do not live in a vacuum and the money spent on advertising has a profound impact on society. After all, the internet is largely free at the point of use because it is funded by advertising.

We felt very strongly that all parts of the industry – brands, agencies, media owners, ad tech, regulators and civil society – should come together to fix the significant problems in the system. Which is why we pulled together a diverse steering group. We also installed six industry experts to lead each of our manifestos: Children’s Wellbeing, Hate Speech, Fake News, Ad Fraud, Consent and Diversity in Content.

In February 2018 we had our first meeting on the day that Unilever CMO and now President of the Advertising Association, Keith Weed, made a speech at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting. In it he stated: ‘Fake news, racism, sexism, terrorists spreading messages of hate, toxic content directed at children… parts of the internet we have is a million miles from where we thought it would take us’.

The past 11 months has seen the Conscious Advertising Network really take off. Brands such as The Body Shop, consultancies and agencies such as Accenture Interactive, Merkle Persicopix and Gyro are supporting us. In addition, many senior industry experts now share the vision that brands need an ethical framework for modern advertising. Everyone involved in the project is a volunteer and all of us have given up significant time away from our businesses and families to drive it forward.


ISBA has thrown its weight behind the project and endorsed all six manifestos. We were even invited to speak at the UN Intergovernmental Conference for the Global Compact for Migration in Marrakesh in December. You can watch the speech here (40 minutes in)

The Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, introduced the panel. The moderator, Louise Arbour prosecuted Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes in The Hague while the current UN High Commissioner on the panel, Michelle Bachelet, was the President of Chile until earlier last year. It was very well received by the UN and they are going to help us further in 2019. Pretty incredible progress for a grassroots project that has been going for less than a year!


The Conscious Advertising Network provides a simple ethical framework for some very complex problems. We are asking for brands to sign up here,  and for all brands to incorporate the principles of the manifestos into all agency briefs and RFPs.

We will ask brands to provide a report 6 months after signing up to determine 3 key things:

  1. How many stakeholders client side and agency side have been trained to implement the manifestos?
  2. How many briefs and RFPs have contained the principles of the manifestos?
  3. Has CAN made a meaningful difference to the ethics of you advertising ecosystem?

We are asking very simple questions of CMOs. Do you want the money you spend on advertising to fund terror? To fund the exploitation of children? To fund fake news and hate speech? Do you believe in public consent for the value exchange in advertising? Do you believe that advertising should reflect the diversity of the industry and the public we advertise to?

An ethical framework cannot come quickly enough. Just last week there was news of a young girl who committed suicide having been exposed to self harm content on Instagram. While a BBC investigation found that some brands have been inadvertently funding this sort of content through advertising.

Now is the time to say enough is enough. The Conscious Advertising Network is not going to solve the problems of society but brands can make a huge contribution to helping the ethics catch up with the technology of modern advertising. Ignorance is no longer an excuse for advertising abuse. The time is now.