One of the key attractions of our annual LEAD conference is that it exists squarely at the intersection of advertising and politics. Just as the Advertising Association serves as the node through which Westminster and industry practitioners communicate their needs to one another, LEAD offers a unique opportunity for people on both sides of that equation to speak candidly in front of an audience of their peers.
This year we heard from MPs from across the political spectrum, as well as independent broadcasters and journalists, in order to discover a path for the industry over the next few years.
The morning began with a speech from Graham Stuart MP, who set out the role of the Department for International Trade and its importance in the run-up to the UK leaving the European Union. He said:
“I like to say to my fellow ministers, we’re leaving the European Union and we’re the only marketing arm of UK PLC we’ve got. If you don’t promote and you don’t let people see you on your front foot, you will lose market confidence.
“One of the great things about advertising is that it has changed. As a department we’re determined to protect our exports more: A large part of allowing it to happen is about persuasion, that exporting will make their businesses more stable going forward, and of course advertising is all about persuasion.”
Stuart went on to discuss the Promote UK campaign, which the Advertising Association is running in co-operation with DIT. He mentioned our presence at the Shanghai International Advertising Festival and the upcoming South By Southwest event, at which we will be featuring the work of our incredible British advertising agencies. He also spoke of the Advertising Association’s new role as the UK rep for the Cannes Lions.
The art of advertising
On the other side of the political spectrum, Labour’s Tom Watson spoke more personally about his own experience as a “failed advertising executive”, noting that while he loves and admires the industry he believes it can do better to protect the public from bad actors in the ad space:
“The words we use convey powerful stories… in a so-called post-truth world the need for clarity has never been more needed. “Words are the currency of love and friendship… nations are bound and loosed by them.” That’s why this failed advertising executive loves your industry so much. The best of what you do… is art, of a sort.”
He spoke of public concerns about the fact that political advertising is unregulated, of the risk of brand content appearing next to or even helping to fund extremist content online, and of the potential for misuse of people’s personal data. His biggest point, however, was that the industry needs to consider again its efficacy as a self-regulator, using cereal boxes as an example of something that should be considered advertising:
“To do it we need to think bigger than we ever have before. It’s also got to mean radical changes on how we market our food to young people. I want you to find a way to get us healthier. Help the nation kick its sugar habit. If you don’t do it, I promise you the next Labour government will.”
The realities of Brexit
Inevitably the tone of the day was coloured by the UK’s upcoming potential exit from the European Union. While the Advertising Association has been busy stressing the need for the protection of our talent and data after Brexit, the politics behind each decision surrounding it is labyrinthine and complex. The audience was grateful, then, to hear from Rock’N’Roll Politics’ Steve Richards, who set out what he believes to be Theresa May’s ultimate goal: day-to-day survival to deliver Brexit.
“Theresa May’s thinking: It is her duty, to deliver the 2016 referendum. She regards any parliamentary maneouvers to block that as challenging a more fundamental democratic mandate.
Her instinct throughout has been to form an alliance with her hard liners. She could have reached out to others, but she reached out to the DUP, and the Mail and others have hailed her as being in a triumphant mode. It typically leads towards a Tory leader’s doom. On a more micro level, Theresa May does what she has to do to get through another day.”
Despite the political differences between the speakers, the overarching tone of the political sections at this year’s LEAD was that government and opposition alike recognise the value of UK advertising to the overall economy and Britain’s creative reputation. While the Tories and Labour differ in their approach as to how to protect the industry, the LEAD audience can feel reassured that our industry remains a priority for both.