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LEAD 2019

Highlights from the summit that brings together leaders in politics and advertising to discuss and debate issues shaping the year ahead.

Kara Melchers

Managing Editor, BITE

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What a poignant day to be heading to LEAD, the Advertising Association's annual industry summit. Following one of the most monumental days in British politics, it seemed a fitting time to listen to leading politicians and advertisers talk about the key issues shaping the year ahead. In these turbulent times of fake news and political uncertainty it was not surprising to see the theme for this year was Trust, Trade and Transformation, with emphasis placed on the actions of these leaders, rather than simply their words.

The morning was chaired by Journalist and Presenter Mary Nightingale, who spoke about the evolution of gathering news. From foreign correspondents flying film home to be processed, to video, mobile satellite, and finally SIM cards that send news straight back to the studio. Whilst social media can give us an instantaneous image of often unreachable stories, the question of verification and trust of sources still needs to be figured out. Bringing us back to the theme of the day.

LEAD 2019 was a call to action for all leaders. The realisation that we work for an industry with the lowest trust score, according to the Ipsos MORI Veracity Index, even lower than politicians, should be the wake-up call that something needs to change. As James Murphy, Founder and Group CEO of Adam&eveDDB and Chairman of the Advertising Association said “we have to be the contributors, not the polluters.”

Here are a few of the highlights from the day.

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OPPOSITION KEYNOTE

Tom Watson, Deputy Leader of The Labour Party and Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Tom Watson opened his keynote by talking about his time as an ad man. Not a great one, by his own opinion, but what he took from the experience was that advertising can shape our culture and our lifestyles. But with this cultural and commercial power comes great responsibility. 

We’re in the middle of a health crisis. Advertising has contributed to making us a nation overweight and addicted to sugar. He used the example of Coca-Cola. The brand has spent millions promoting an image of healthy, fun-loving people, yet the reality is one of weight gain and diabetes. And of Kellogg's, whose packaging entices kids to eat sugary cereal with no nutritional value.

He concluded by setting the room a creative brief, one that really does put society at the heart. How can we get 2 million diabetic people off their medication? 

I wonder if anyone will take it on?

THE FUTURE OF ADVERTISING IN A UBIQUITOUS DATA WORLD

Dr Pippa Malmgren, Co-founder of H Robotics, Economist, Author and former US Presidential Advisor

After all the talk of Brexit and how we’re doomed, Dr Pippa Malmgren was a ray of optimism. As an expert in the robotics industry she informed the room that this a space where globally, the UK is leading the way.

And what a space to be part of. AI has been described as the new space race and the new frontier of geo-politics. Super computers can now process 6 billion years worth of data in 1 second. The most valuable start-up in the world is a Chinese facial recognition company. 

In the past China has sat at the heart of manufacturing, but the world is changing. Foxconn, the Chinese company that makes the iPhone is expanding into the US, manufacturing contracts from all industries are moving to Mexico and robotics can be made more cheaply in the UK.

It’s not just cost that draws the robotics industry to the UK. US born Malmgren spoke of the British reputation for non-conformity, a key ingredient of innovation. It sets us apart from China, another leader, whose social credit system leaves less freedom for scientists and engineers to break the mould. 

Nano technology on the street, in the home and in our bodies means there’s a new level of data and with that a new level of transparency for individuals and organisations. Companies can no longer do one thing and say another. The task is how to become competent and capable of working in this environment. As advertisers it’s our responsibility to act parenthetically rather than analytically. Data can give us the facts, but it should be our job to understand the feeling. 

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TRUST IN THE UK ADVERTISING INDUSTRY

Evan Davis, Economist, Journalist and Presenter

Evan Davis new book, Post Truth, has been described as the general theory of bullshit. Whereas a liar purposefully misleads the truth, someone who bullshits has a general disregard for the facts. For example ‘my inauguration ceremony was attended my more people than Obama’s’ said the current US President.

On the topic of politics Davis spoke of the political class’ professionalisation and their communication. So much so, in an effort to speak so correctly they've lost all connection with the general public, and as a consequence, Brexit.

The problem is, if you carefully craft everything you say then it lacks authenticity, and people will just discount it. The same goes, if you assume people are stupid, and speak to them as such, they will not trust you. 

The same applies to brands as it does to politicians. And if you’ve lost trust, you can’t advertise yourself out of it. Davis also made the point that "the truth is, if you have a bad image, and you’re bad, you don’t have an image problem, you have a badness problem."

The moral of the story: there is only one way to be trusted and that is to be trustworthy.

PRESIDENT’S KEYNOTE

Keith Weed, CMCO of Unilever and President of The Advertising Association

Keith Weed was hot off the plane from Davos where sustainability, and in particular single use plastics, was high on the agenda. Whilst Unilever is committed to making all its plastic recyclable by 2025, which is tomorrow for a company of that size, this is only beneficial if the whole world has access to recycling centres. 

This idea of ‘whole system change’ formed the heart of Weed’s keynote. If you want to transform an industry, whether it’s in the use of plastics or palm oil, everyone has to change with you. As the new Chair of the Advertising Association he will be making sure the right people are at the table to make these changes.

There are many reasons to love advertising. It enables free press, entertainment, help, knowledge and connections. But as Weed stressed “we have a responsibility to clean up our own back yard.” Here are his steps to address this: 

  • Improve the quality of advertising. 50% people think ads are annoying
  • Fight inauthentic activity e.g. buying fake followers. Don’t buy influencers based on followers 
  • Address concerns over personal data being exploited 
  • Don’t fund companies that exploit vulnerable people 
  • Fight fake news 
  • Consider that more than 50% of people over 35 find personalisation annoying
  • Don’t bombard. The average consumer is exposed to 10,000 brand messages a day

"Trust arrives on foot and leaves on a horseback. It’s trust or bust and we choose trust”

Keith Weed

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