Auto brands could be limiting their digital visibility (and have no idea it’s happening)

By Ali Gwin

New research reveals that unintentional bias in advertising technologies may exclude certain consumers

Like every sector, the auto industry is no stranger to bias. Whether it's advertising that goes viral for all the wrong reasons, lack of representation in the boardroom, or safety data based solely on crash test dummies with male physicality, the industry faces unique challenges.

For auto marketers, the challenge of bias in advertising goes beyond ensuring you have diverse representation. It also means mitigating underlying bias in advertising technology that may skew your message to specific audiences, unknowingly excluding entire cohorts of buyers who would otherwise benefit from your message.

Here’s the good news – it’s easy to identify and fix.

Even better, we’ve got the tools and won’t charge you a dime.

You may be unknowingly limiting your audience

Over a year ago, IBM started researching the existence of bias in advertising tech. Since then, we have worked with teams at the Ad Council and Mindshare to study their campaigns to better understand how unintended bias impacts campaign outcomes.

In the most recent study, researchers discovered that the tech used by a CPG brand was directing online ads to women more frequently than men because the algorithm believed female buyers were more common.

Here’s the important part: the company was totally unaware of this exclusion. They weren’t being sexist. The culprit was plain and simple – but damaging – bias hidden in the algorithms.

Once the problem was identified, the research team determined that fairness could be increased 6x with minimal impact to campaign performance by including more male buyers.

As a result, the brand identified previously unknown male buyers and learned more about them, demonstrating that performance and fairness can not only co-exist but also be mutually beneficial. Now they have a larger audience base and greater insights for building future strategies.

And right now, that’s particularly important for the auto industry.

This is no time to limit your reach

The emergence of electric vehicle (EV) intenders is causing a lot of excitement for manufacturers, marketers and consumers. New markets present opportunities to grow revenue by learning and responding to new audience preferences and demands.

We’re all still learning what EV intenders want and how to best interact with them. Because consumers tend to stick with auto brands they like, capturing this emerging market now can set your brand up for repeat business for years to come. (By the way – we spoke to thousands of EV intenders and they gave us some great ideas. You can find those here).

But regardless of whether you’re trying to connect with EV intenders or people who still want traditionally powered vehicles, digital experiences are the new storefronts. Most car shoppers will research your brand online long before setting foot in a dealership.

If your ad tech is excluding certain groups, they might not even be aware of what you can offer. That’s why marketers must seize this moment, expanding their brand consideration groups by adopting an unbiased approach to advertising without sacrificing intel or performance.

Sometimes the right thing to do is also the best business decision

Hundreds of leaders from organizations like Delta Air Lines, WPP, and Kellogg’s, and more have taken the Advertising Fairness Pledge to raise industry awareness and encourage everyone to commit to educating themselves on bias in advertising, exploring how it impacts campaigns and advocating for change.

Auto marketers have a chance to accelerate the industry's commitment to unbiased practices in every aspect of their business – from messaging and images to the technology that serves ads to consumers. Click here to take the Advertising Fairness Pledge now.

But we’re car people, right? We like to get under the hood and fix problems. IBM is providing the tools help you take the next step. The Advertising Toolkit for AI Fairness 360 is an open source collection of fairness tools, metrics and algorithms that any brand, marketer, agency and tech platform can use – at no charge – to identify unwanted bias in their campaigns or technologies, evolve their strategies to mitigate these impacts and establish better industry standards.

Access the toolkit here at no charge along with additional guidance on getting started and sharing results.