Media Agencies Increasingly Include Return on Carbon Along With ROI in Plans


In order to encourage clients to make more sustainable advertising decisions, agencies like Wavemaker, Havas Media Network U.K. and Omnicom Media Group are increasingly measuring the carbon impact of media plans alongside return on investment. This lets agencies find overlaps between sustainability and effectiveness without eliminating the nuance that exists between industries and media channels.

“What’s the best way to spend the money with the lowest CO2 impact that generates this outcome that I want to achieve?” asked Dominic Charles, managing director of audience intelligence and marketing science at GroupM-owned agency Wavemaker. “The answer to that varies a lot from client to client because it depends on what works in the sector and the audience.”

Advertising generates carbon emissions through the ways campaigns are created and produced and the channels they are served on. But for a media agency hired to place ads, advising clients to reduce emissions at the expense of sales isn’t exactly an option.

Faced with that reality, momentum is growing around strategies that measure the effectiveness in terms of the carbon generated by each piece of a plan. Using that measurement alongside ROI lets agencies make decisions on reducing climate impact without compromising unnecessarily on effectiveness.

Still, as the industry continues to wait for standards on how to measure the carbon impact of media, and reporting requirements ramp up in the European Union, some agencies remain hesitant to codify measurement processes.

Here’s a primer on how this model has become more prevalent—and what’s holding it back.

What is return on carbon?

Wavemaker calls its measurement return on carbon. Creating an overlapping graph that measures ROI alongside ROC lets the agency demonstrate to clients where the most efficient plans fall.

ROC was coined by Angie Otteson Fairchild in a 2020 paper published by the Academy of Management Journal. It aims to “expand our perspective on the costs and benefits surrounding climate-disrupting greenhouse gas emissions and shift managers’ agenda to treating them as scarce and valuable inputs that have literal financial value—to be managed efficiently in order to generate profits.”

How are agencies using it?

Wavemaker began considering ROC in its media mix modeling for all clients starting in 2022.

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