Some of the world’s biggest advertisers and agency groups are coming together with Google, Facebook and other media owners to launch an "unprecedented" alliance to improve the digital media environment.
The Global Alliance for Responsible Media said its members want to use their "collective power to significantly improve the health of the media ecosystem" and "to identify specific collaborative actions, processes and protocols for protecting consumers and brands from safety issues" in the wake of a series of scandals.
The alliance said it is "working towards a media environment where hate speech, bullying and disinformation is challenged, where personal data is protected, and used responsibly when given, and where everyone, especially children, are better protected from harm".
Mark Read, WPP's chief executive, said the creation of the group was significant because the ad industry "has not got ahead of" how "bad actors" have been using online platforms.
Some of the world’s largest advertisers including Adidas, Diageo, Mars, Procter & Gamble and Unilever are members of the Global Alliance for Responsible Media.
The biggest agency groups – WPP, Omnicom, Publicis Groupe, Interpublic and Dentsu – are also members, along with media owners such as NBCUniversal and News Corp’s Unruly, as well as many trade bodies such as the Association of National Advertisers in the US, World Federation of Advertisers, ISBA and the American Association of Advertising Agencies.
Members of the alliance will meet for the first time at this week’s Cannes Lions festival and urged other companies to support the initiative, describing it as "a call to action for more collective responsibility in media practices".
Industry observers said the involvement of both Google and Facebook, in particular, was important because the world’s two biggest media owners have done little to collaborate on brand safety until now.
Facebook and Google's YouTube have each faced a string of scandals about illegal and extremist content appearing online and, in some cases, brands’ advertising appearing next to this content.
"With nearly 3.8 billion people online, the world is increasingly connected, and yet the increase in dangerous, hateful, disruptive and fake content online risks threatening our global community," the alliance said.
"Members of the Global Alliance for Responsible Media recognise the role that advertisers can play in collectively pushing to improve the safety of online environments.
"Together, they are rallying publishers and platforms to do more to address harmful and misleading content and to work together to develop and deliver against a concrete set of actions, processes and protocols for protecting people and brands."
Robert Rakowitz, global head of media at Mars, said: "Media and advertising are fundamental forces that shape how we connect, make key decisions and shape our world view.
"The status quo is untenable and our work through the alliance will allow us to shift from driving reach at all costs to building reach with responsibility.
"The uncommon collaboration and shared accountability we are starting here is essential."
Luis Di Como, executive vice-president, global media, at Unilever, said: "When industry challenges spill into society, creating division and putting our children at risk, it’s on all of us to act."
Isabel Massey, global media director at Diageo, said: "We take our role as a responsible marketer very seriously, as do many others, which means there’s no better time to move the industry forward collectively.
"You’ll hear me start every meeting in Cannes with one simple question: ’What more could we do together?’ I ask others to do the same."
Carolyn Everson, vice-president of global marketing solutions at Facebook, said: "We are resolute in our commitment to provide a safe community and we know we can’t do this alone. We’ve made a lot of progress and this alliance is our next step forward."
Kirk Perry, president of brand solutions at Google, said: "We welcome the objectives of this alliance and look forward to learning more and to continuing to work with our partners."
The cross-industry move to find common standards to improve the online media environment comes at a critical moment, after years when leading players have struggled to find an effective way to self-regulate.
National governments in many countries, including the UK, Australia and New Zealand, are now looking to impose tougher regulation to combat online harms.
Some industry figures who were briefed on the plans for the alliance ahead of its launch were doubtful about whether it will have a significant impact. "Let's see," one senior figure at a global media buying agency group said.