Marketing Mix Modeling, Data Analytics • 14 min reading time

Leave No Trace - unless you're an advertiser

Roz Bowman - published on January 18, 2024

Explore how marketing practices can align with environmental responsibility in 2024. Discover the impact of media waste and the footprint of advertising.

As the New Year progresses at a scary pace, we can safely assume many of us are settling in to New Year’s resolutions for 2024. I personally have always been ecologically minded. With so much media coverage recently, especially in the wake of last month’s COP28, environmental issues facing us in the 21st century seemed worthy of some meaningful resolutions. 

I want to leave the best planet that I can for my kids, rather than an uncomfortable future both physically and politically. I try to make green choices in my everyday life: buying seemingly environmentally conscious brands, turning off lights and electric appliances to reduce power needs. The list goes on.  

Two catchphrases often remind me what to do for the benefit of our ecosystem: “Reduce-reuse-recycle,” and “Leave No Trace.”  

“Leave no trace”, means simply leaving things as you find them. Simple steps; you should never leave litter in the countryside (or anywhere for that matter). And to further the point, you should not make any alteration to an environment that would later be found and could have a damaging impact on the local flora and fauna. 

When it comes to “reduce, reuse recycle”, we often aim this saying at physical products. Reduce the number of consumables we use, reuse useful parts of old products and recycle things into new materials or even novel uses for whole items. 

What I’m pondering is the reality of how I can live by these two idioms into the new year. Not just in how I spend as a consumer or how I run my household, but when I am at work.

Being a marketing consultant, I wonder, can I bring an interest for the environment into my work in 2024? 

So, if I take the two idioms mentioned above – can I see how these can align to marketing practices, and even better to analytics in a way that I can bring some positive impact for the environment through the next 12 months? 

Leave no trace 

Taking this phrase to have the implication that we shouldn’t create any waste which can begin to clutter up our environment, we must ask: does marketing and media create any waste? Undoubtedly, yes! All the way back at the turn of the 20th century, US retailer John Wanamaker is credited with quoting: Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half. Now, at the start of the 21st century, there have been multiple studies that identify media waste as a global issue and quantify it at a phenomenal scale. 

A couple of proof points are wonderfully put together in the Article “Sub Prime Data Crisis”1. In 2019 an academic paper from MIT, GroupM, and Melbourne Business School, attempted to uncover the accuracy of programmatic ad serving. Targeting was shown to be very bad with the majority of profiling incorrect and thus digital ads ending up in front of the wrong audiences. According to the researchers, these inaccuracies added up to $7 billion in wasted ad spend every year2 

On top of this, it’s been highlighted that when running digital ads, marketers are very often reaching robots rather than real human browsers. An estimate of the scale of this fraud is much harder to pin down, but the most conservative estimate from the ANA is around  $6 billion every year3. 

Further to these ad serving issues, there appears to be wastage further up the marketing strategy funnel too. The Better Briefs Project4, founded by two ex-agency strategists, conducted a global study judging the communication between clients and agencies responsible for devising marketing and media tactics. Through this research they discovered that around the world in the marketing industry, the lack of good briefing was wasting 1/3 of marketing budgets, amounting to $200bn a year! 

These research pieces alone highlight a very substantial amount of wastage of advertising budgets. But what is the harm in wasted media budget? From my point of view, I see a number of consequences that we would be better off avoiding: 

  1. Primarily, in this brilliantly descriptive article, you can read an overview of multiple pressures that data centers place on the environments they are in. Through carbon-hungry and water-thirsty cooling apparatus, centers are using vast amounts of both water and energy. By implementing advertising to online browsers and the subsequent attribution platforms, the pressures from the digital cloud are exceptionally large. “The Cloud now has a greater carbon footprint than the airline industry. A single data center can consume the equivalent electricity of 50,000 homes5.  On top of this intake of resources, data centers are also pumping out their own waste in noise pollution and physical defunct computing products. The Cloud, as the author Gonzalez terms it, is of course much larger than just the advertising that is hosted but still, if any superfluous computing can be avoided then this should be an aim. 

  2. Secondarily to the environmental angle that I’m trying to uncover, but still potent; I would think that if targeting and monitoring of audiences was better, poor-quality websites may be less abundant and thus content served on social networks may better.
    I find it perturbing to think of the abundance of low standard websites that get funded by ads. And the so called ‘click bait’ content on social networks that guide audiences through to these websites set up predominantly to rake in programmatic ad budgets. All for ads that no user really cares to see, or real users even see. Additionally, along these lines, by increasing the usage of social media for advertising and as a platform for ad funded influencers, there is a detriment to users’ mental health. Many opponents to social media call for better monitoring and harsher controls for many valid reasons. Without a drop in the support from advertising, it seems doubtful that the networks will find a need to function with heightened responsibility for their users.  

But of course, against all these wasteful and even dangerous side effects, marketers do want and need to leave a trace. Businesses need a spark of brand recognition and consideration in their audiences' minds as a nudge to go and buy their products or continue using their services. The marketing industry is relying on the fact that they can influence a customer’s behavior, leaving a long-term trace through brand loyalty.  

So, to help a marketing team find the portion of budget that is not wasted and is having an incremental impact is key. To identify the saturation point in any digital channel should be a good starting point to help reduce the excess of spend, and thus excess of energy hungry data, sitting behind the scenes.  

If you want to learn more about incrementality and attribution, click here

Reduce, reuse, recycle:  

Moving on to follow the tenet of “reduce, reuse recycle” below I have compiled a list of ways that companies could strive to meet these three actions through the year. Some in the realms of measurement and some in the wider marketing and management practices. 


Efficiency gains are a fundamental aim for measurement and align directly with the concept of reducing consumption.  

ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) policies and a higher focus on purpose above profits are making a welcome rise in businesses. The range of OMG ESG calculators6 released in the past few months illustrate the shift toward sustainability. Here, enabling clients to choose media channels that align with environmental goals.  

Additionally, opting for Marketing Mix Modeling (MMM) rather than Multi-Touch Attribution (MTA) could influence the computational demands and dependency on big data in upcoming marketing measurement and strategies.  


In the spirit of Mark Ritson's insights7, the concept of reuse extends beyond evaluation and could become a strategic approach and attention grabber. Reusing old creative is not merely a way to give a nostalgic nod but can also be a green option. Echoing Ritson's assertion that "the problem of wear-out is one of the marketers, not the market." Businesses can, more safely than they realise, reuse campaigns, thus saving efforts in creating new assets. 

I am not an expert on such areas but could there also be options in the reuse of media plans, avoiding repetitive and costly visits to media agencies.  

Beyond media practises, the reuse principle also applies to evaluation. MMM projects for example can benefit from regular cycles. Regular updates can contribute to cost efficiency and yield better improvements through improved insights. Within my company, we have an explicit product that enables quicker, simpler MMM model updates. Here I uncover a big tick in the box for the RRR tenet in 2024! 


Lastly, the concept of recycling in marketing can involve putting data to alternate use. An example, upcycling competitive data compiled for MMM models into Share of Voice (SOV) / Share of Market (SOM) analyses. By recycling existing data, businesses can save on costs related to new data and briefs while extracting additional benefits.  

A key to achieving data recycling relies on suitable data granularity, structure and access to begin with. Here I can see that by supporting clients with in-house or partnered data projects, I can enable scalable data usage and options for repurposing their rich data stores. 

Poignantly (as we exemplify the battle that industry has between purpose and profit) many of the gains from above ideas mean cost benefits, not eco benefits. BUT any cost benefit at least creates budget available for ESG programmes. 

I recall a recent creative example from the telecoms company Lebara, which alluded to how they will keep prices low for customers in 2024 by not investing in new creatives solely centred around Christmas 2023. This idea is an amusing real-life example of how any company could promote environmental ideas. Any business could conserve money through actions like the ones we’ve touched on above. Then impart the saving into, perhaps attractive pricing but even better, environmentally friendly acts.  

In conclusion  

I step into 2024 with a slight bounce in my stride. After considering leave-no-trace as a concept, and reduce, reuse, recycle principles I can see elements of my work that count positively toward environmental aims. 

There seems hope, as an analyst by striving more broadly to help clients plan efficiently and identify the portions of budgets that lead to incremental benefit, I am aiding businesses to avoid waste and reduce investment, consumption and emissions. 

Simply helping clients save money through the year could enable them to start new ecologically aimed activities without hitting profitability. A green point to me? I can hopefully create some spare coins to pop into the imaginary tins of eco-charity collectors sitting outside the media agency offices and client boardrooms.  

Directly in what I do at ScanmarQED; also advocating recycling and reusing of MMM data and models, can help gain better insights and reduce need for costly future revisits and reinventions of models. Supporting clients with data workstreams can set them off on a more effective journey for 2024.  

Alongside this, if I can help derive some genuine action points during projects and support users of our company software offerings, then I should be able to bring some positive change in client businesses in 2024. I am already carrying out my hypothetical litter-pick, bagging up the discarded packets of surplus data and digital ads! Another green point to me, and a task to continue with this year.  

1 The Sub Prime Data Crisis, an article by Peter Weinberg, Global Lead, Market Development
2 Frontiers: How Effective Is Third-Party Consumer Profiling? Evidence from Field Studies
7Consumers don’t get tired of ads, only marketers do (  


Picture of Roz Bowman

Roz Bowman

Senior Consultant UK