Thought Leadership

Oliver Dowden: “Advertising can turbocharge the recovery”

Speaking at RESET 2021, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport hailed the role of advertising in recovery but added pressure to the sector with upcoming HFSS ad restrictions.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director


The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, hailed the role of advertising in recovery, but simultaneously added pressure to the sector by doubling down on upcoming HFSS ad restrictions.

Speaking at #RESET2021 this morning, organised by the Advertising Association, the IPA and ISBA, Dowden said that: “Advertising will be absolutely pivotal in rebuilding our economy back to full strength.”

“Advertising generates £17billion with over 190,000 employees. It is a vital cornerstone of our creative army,” he noted.

Crediting the industry for collaborating in the face of the coronavirus crisis he noted: “This pandemic offers a genuine opportunity to reset and build back better.” While he also praised the work of the industry for getting out the ‘Stay home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives’ messaging. He expressed his gratitude towards the industry for donating so much advertising space to get the message out there when it was facing such a harsh economic climate.

“In 2020 [the industry] harnessed its immense power against coronavirus for the national good,” he added.

Dowden also highlighted the creative impact of the sector. “The artistry of the sector is often overlooked. Things like the John Lewis ad are part of our culture,” he explained. He pointed to the Super Bowl ads from across the Atlantic as being “reflective of a moment in time.” He continued: “Too many people forget that the impact of a well-crafted ad campaign can impact how we eat and drink, to how we vote and how we cope with a global pandemic.”

I want to see advertising that is fair, ethical and accountable.

Oliver Dowden

The role of big tech and accountability

Yet while Dowden was keen to deliver to the industry a message focused on the opportunity to build back better and the ‘showstopper’ events he highlighted in 2022, he also tackled big industry issues including the impact of big tech and online advertising and controversial moves to ban HFSS advertising.

“I want to see advertising that is fair, ethical and accountable,” Dowden noted. He also  tackled online advertising, noting that while the internet has been a huge force for good it has also “bought challenges”.

Pointing to the “fundamental imbalance” in the market, he noted that the government needs to ensure “big tech” is not damaging to business and consumers, which is why the government needs to enforce a new code of conduct for tech giants.

Advertising's role in tackling the obesity crisis

Dowden spoke about the fact that the Prime Minister, who is on his own health journey, sees physical health as a major priority for the government. He notes: “COVID has been a stark reminder of the importance of physical health.”

The government is proposing a total ban of online advertising of HFSS products, while last July unveiled its plans for a pre-watershed ban on HFSS advertising on television. It’s a decision which was widely condemned by the industry.

Dowden explained that “this decision was taken against the backdrop of a national health crisis. I understand the concerns of the industry.”

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