Our Stance: November 2018


Welcome to the first edition of Our Stance... This is a new feature with views from the Edinburgh Strategy and Insight team, with their thoughts on current news and views! The strategy and insight team is: Maddy Sim, Ian Martin and Moira Garden.

views Thought Leadership strategy
Our Stance: November 2018 Our Stance: November 2018 Our Stance: November 2018 Our Stance: November 2018


US scientists have developed an algorithm that helps to spot signs of depression, in part based on how many times a person uses first-person pronouns (I, me) and emotional language. There is talk of, one day, using such an algorithm in systems of care to raise a flag.


Maddy Sim

Researchers cite this method of screening as a “form of unobtrusive mental screening”. The danger is that not everybody sees it that way. To many the most obtrusive, not to mention embarrassing, thing that could happen to them would be having their digital profile plundered for information. Imagine walking around town with your search history on display, your likes and mentions and DMs listed beside you as insight in to the person you are.

For most that’s a thought that makes them squirm.

So yes, this has a noble aim. But then so many adtech companies purport to have noble aims, it doesn’t stop the ‘bad guys’ (or even the not-so-good guys) getting their hands on adtech for nefarious aims.

How would this work in practise? Would certain medical and academic bodies be allowed access to increased levels of Facebook data. Does that ring a bell? A data scientist at Cambridge Uni was doing a research project on how people use emojis to convey emotion. He created a FB app, which gave users a view of their ‘digital life’, and him access to huge swathes of their and their friend’s information. This was all above board at the time. The data got passed to Cambridge Analytica and used, depending on how much you believe their own press, to influence referendums and elections.

I hope this research gets used to help more people. I believe the findings must have applications outside of the digital sphere, in face to face recognition and counselling services.

I’d reject the idea that digital data harvesting is entirely unobtrusive.


Ian Martin

I’m torn.

I think the technology and the benefits for application in this case are phenomenal. The scale of the mental health problem in the UK (and globally) is frightening and the ability to passively identify people at risk is an opportunity to save lives – if the intervention and support side can be set up effectively.

If the power sits with a social network, I’m out. Privacy issues plague the industry and trusting them with this level of sensitive, personal data doesn’t sit well with me.  

I hope the next step in development is to engage the healthcare industry and understand the real-life application opportunities with the front-line experts. If it takes the easy route; a quick sell to a tech giant trying to buy their way in to the healthcare market, then I am out.  

Technology should be part of the solution, let’s just be careful who we put in control.


Moira Garden

Whilst the concept of this idea is quite strong and it appears, on the surface, to be generated from a place of care, there are some immediate concerns.

Firstly, the examples of words given to identify signs of depression included “I”, “me”, “tears” and “feelings”. Whilst I appreciate that these are only a snapshot into the study, social media is platform largely dedicated to showcasing yourself and therefore, people are going to use “I” and “me” quite frequently. And, being the millennial that I am, I can say first hand my peers are known for sharing their feelings with their ‘friends’, often getting “totes emosh” and sharing “tears of joy” over a cute cockapoo sneezing. Therefore, you cannot solely identify these words as being signs of depression.

Secondly, those who suffer with depression often do so silently. If they are to share their feelings, it is often done in a personal, safe environment, with people that they trust. To bare your soul so openly within an online space, that could so easily be shared, is not something that you would often see.

Finally, it is often suggested that social media, if not a root that stems into feelings of depression, it definitely feeds it. In providing more power to a platform that, it could be argued, causes more harm than good, are we taking spotlight off the real issues?

For more information on this topic, see this article;





Ian Martin


The Superbowl is the highlight of the American sporting calendar and while they have centre stage, some of the world’s biggest entertainment stars perform and advertisers break the bank to place their 30 second ad amongst the excitement.

It’s still 3 months’ away, but America’s game is losing the fairy tale factor that once made it the most sought after 13 minutes in entertainment. Remember Justin and Janet’s wardrobe malfunction? The internet certainly does;


It isn’t the active CTE crisis that is turning Rhianna away from a halftime show performance, or Amy Schumer from a starring role in a Superbowl ad. It is support for the cause Colin Kaepernick has been leading since September 1st 2016.

A cause Nike helped propel to the consciousness of the world with their ad in September this year. Obviously their goal was to sell more Nike stuff, but they’ve had long standing commitments with athletes for decades now and lifetime partnerships with the really great ones.

Standing beside the athletes who have stood by them, in support of what is right, is long overdue.

Despite the pre-game and off-field stuff, ratings have been trending up in 2018. Even if Rhianna, Amy Schumer and some brands plan to avoid the Superbowl in 2019, it will still be one of the most watched events of the year. Despite the fact the NFL make revenue from the advertising, I hope Nike use the platform to increase reach for their message, sell more products and taunt the NFL. And I hope CBS take the copy. 

Nike has helped propel what was a national sporting and political discussion into a global cultural debate. I hope they keep up the momentum.

For more on this topic, check out the following article:





Maddy Sim


Facebook – and others – are being sued for allowing employers to target job ads in a ‘discriminatory’ way, eg. targeting some jobs at only men. This week, Martin Moore, author of Democracy Hacked: Political Turmoil and Information Warfare in the Digital Age wrote an article in The Guardian condemning targeting practice, concluding;

Yet, eventually, it will become clear that at its core, targeted advertising enables discrimination. Once this becomes widely acknowledged, then the system will have to change, will have to become less discriminatory and less opaque and consequently – from ad tech’s perspective – will become less effective. Then, who knows, many sites may need to search for alternative methods of funding and perhaps – perhaps – we will find a better and healthier way to fund the digital economy. One can but hope.


Targeting is not new. We know this, and yet the more refined we get the more people leap to attack targeting as if it was newly invented. Direct mail has long been using databases of people with certain demographics, certain interests, certain characteristics, to segment their mailing lists, and marketers have long been using research and insight to ascertain what their target audience might be watching and where they are. It was just a lot more cumbersome before the internet.

Okay, I’m not saying it hasn’t got more pointed. Thanks to the trails of information we leave behind us online we can target people more effectively and with a lot less wastage. Is that discriminatory to those outside of our target audiences, who may still have been interested in what we have to offer? If anything, I’d say the more pointed we’ve got the more likely we are to capture those who are interested regardless of whether they fit some notional ‘target audience’, a concept which is tied up in sweeping generalisations. Hopefully fewer clients will give us target audiences like ‘women 45-54’, and far more will think about the attitudes and interests of who they want to view their ad. Because we can target that way.

In addition – is it the role of advertising to ensure everyone gets to see a job position? I’d argue not. Roles are posted in an open forum, and personally I’d rely on my own research to find roles of interest, and not the media budgets of the companies I’d be interested in working for.

So I can’t say I’m siding with Martin on this one. However – that’s not to say that I’m targeting’s biggest cheerleader. It has its role but cannot be solely relied on.

First off, as marketers we should always question the target audience and reject anything that feels even slightly discriminatory.

Secondly, we must ensure that we are the best at using insight and strategy to understand where our advertising will have the greatest impact. Because it’s about the ‘where’ as much as the ‘who’. If we rely on targeting alone we risk narrowing the pool - and devaluing the brand.

For more on this topic, check out the following article:


views Thought Leadership strategy
^Back to Top