Thought Leadership

Learnings from LEAD 2024

At the Advertising Association, IPA, and ISBA’s annual flagship conference, industry leaders discuss talent, AI, sustainability and growth

Georgie Moreton

Deputy Editor, BITE Creativebrief


At the Advertising Association, IPA, and ISBA’s annual flagship LEAD event, industry leaders, policymakers and politicians gathered at Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster to discuss the role of the creative industries in shaping the future of the economy.

In a super-election year, with over 64 countries including the UK heading for a vote worldwide, LEAD 2024 embraced this political focus. Sessions explored themes of purpose, sustainable growth, public trust and AI. As well as considering the role advertising has to play in wider society over the coming years. 

Time to rebuild trust 

An emerging theme of the day was the importance of rebuilding trust, both in advertising and in leadership. A political keynote from journalist Kate McCann outlined the state of play to be uninspiring for both the Labour and Conservative parties. McCann discussed the upcoming ballot as the ‘none of the above election’. A lens which articulates the feeling of apathy that many up and down the country will resonate with.

McCann considered how both party offerings are still focused on ‘managing issues rather than leading us out of them’. An approach which can cause people to scramble toward the quick-fix solutions offered by the likes of Farage or Trump. With public trust in politicians at an all-time low, the mood of the nation remains delicate.

We must make trust and safety a priority, and get ahead of harm rather than react to crisis.

Lord Michael Grade, Chair of Ofcom

While public trust in politics is decreasing, the ASA cites public trust in advertising to be slowly on the rise. The ASA’s biggest-ever ad campaign carried out last year focused on trust. The campaign was effective, with research showing that those who saw it were 80% more likely to trust the ad industry.

Lord Michael Grade, Chair of Ofcom took to the stage to address the topic of building a safer online world and the impact of The Online Safety Act. The focus was on building a safer online world for children, while Grade encouraged advertisers to make impact with their ad spend. He urged them to move away from tech platforms that fail to make positive changes. “We must make trust and safety a priority, and get ahead of harm, rather than react to crisis,” he explained.

For brands, this building of trust can come from consistency. Marketing leaders from both Cadbury’s and Lucky Saint discussed the challenges of connecting with consumers in difficult times. For Cadbury’s consistent messaging focused around generosity has built a solid identity in the minds of consumers who are well-versed in the brand’s values. While challenger brand Lucky Saint has created a unique brand identity with a non-judgemental approach to alcohol-free drinking to build up recognition. 

Responsible growth is sustainable  

Throughout the day sustainability was present in every conversation, but there remains no doubt that the industry is still not doing enough to galvanise significant behavioural change. An apathy which is detrimental, particularly given the industry’s prominent position to impact culture and trigger action. A cultural currency exemplified by ITV’s Mr Bates vs The Post Office series which truly showcased the power of creative media.

Kate Waters, Director of Client Strategy and Planning at ITV, urged brands to consider their impact influencing more sustainable consumer behaviours. “Emission saving behaviour change needs to rise from 13% to 59%, and so consumer behaviour is a critical part of the solution,” she explained.

ITVs fruitful partnership with Love Island is an example of how culture, sustainable business and creativity intersect to drive positive change. With the Islanders curating their own wardrobes with eBay pre-loved fashion, audiences can see the circular economy in action.

Thinking differently and focusing on the positive outcomes of sustainability positions consumers on the side of the solution rather than simply pointing out they are part of the problem. “Insert into culture and then sustainable behaviour change will follow,” said Eve Williams, Vice President and General Manager of eBay UK. 

The industry must always strive for better  

Gordon Brown’s keynote speech on the Multibank initiative shone a light on the extreme levels of poverty in the UK that continue to be ignored. An economic environment which is leaving families forced to choose between heating and eating. He urged the industry to strive for better and consider how they can help. The Multibank initiative asks businesses to donate surplus goods that would otherwise end up in landfills in a solution that is both anti-poverty and anti-pollution.

Nobody can be content when there is so much discontent.

Gordon Brown

The ex-Prime Minister rallied for the industry to contribute to positive change. “Nobody can be content when there is so much discontent,” he explained, adding: “When the strong help the weak it makes us all stronger.”

The Multibank initiative is an example of a tangible solution that can practically help, dealing with both waste and deprivation to combat a very real worsening issue. Brands should look to this example and consider how they can also make meaningful change by leveraging their existing tools and values. Brown left the audience with a message of hope and challenged the creative industries to use its superpower of influence to help rebuild and shape an economy inclusive to all. 

Embracing AI 

Embracing the power of AI to facilitate creativity and bolster talent was another key theme at Lead. The conference underlined the fact that the narrative around AI is moving away from fear mongering and toward possibility.

The ASA spoke of its ambitions to strive toward a mature in-house data capability. Guy Parker, Chief Executive at ASA explained that in 2023, 3 million ads were processed using AI in a model that uses machine learning to flag up any discrepancies in compliance. This year the ASA aims to run 10-20 million ads through its software and also use AI to flag up any claims around greenwashing. Yet Parker maintains that any final ruling will always be made by humans, which is ‘important for ethics’. The recent controversy around the organisation's FKA Twiggs Calvin Klein campaign ruling proves that no matter which side you sit on, public and societal attitudes evolve at such a pace that human input is vital.

Similarly, Lucy Frazer, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, underlined the importance of responsible AI usage and the need for proper guidelines. “AI can’t replicate the creativity that can only come from a human being,” she added.

The industry is only as good as the people we have working in it.

Alessandra Bellini, President, Advertising Association

Talent is the most precious resource 

Both the Secretary of State and Shadow Minister, Sir Chris Bryant, spotlighted the importance of talent, creative education and skills within the industry. Bryant in particular urged the industry to think about accessibility and barriers to entry for young people in places outside of the capital city such as in his constituency, Rhondda.

Closing remarks from Advertising Association President, Alessandra Bellini reinforced the notion that ‘responsible growth will be fair and inclusive for everyone’.

For Bellini, this growth is achieved through collaboration and interdependence. An industry in which everyone has their part to play and works together to make progress. As she reminded delegates: “The industry is only as good as the people we have working in it.”