Our new age of responsibility

Keith Weed, President of the Advertising Association believes that by acting together as an industry, we can be more responsible, more trusted and more successful.

Keith Weed

President Advertising Association


The global upheaval and individual tragedies caused by COVID-19 have shaken us all. But if there is one positive thing we can draw on, this crisis has brought us together, united us as a nation in a way we have not seen for many years. I am struck how the social aspects of the current situation resemble those of a society united, in purpose.  

History demonstrates that when our country, or indeed any nation, has been engaged in a common purpose, it reaches the other side of the crisis by everyone taking responsibility for the role they have to play.

Responsibility at the moment takes many forms. From checking on your neighbour’s welfare to sharing helpful information on Coronavirus with friends and family or moving a step or so to keep a two-metre distance between you and the next person in the supermarket queue.

It is at times like this that we have witnessed the best of humankind with all sorts of organisations stepping up. As President of the Advertising Association I have witnessed the considerable additional work of the team supporting the challenges of businesses, helping people in the industry and engaging with government.

A relationship strengthened in hard times flourishes long after the crisis ends.

Keith Weed

The importance of responsible advertising

COVID-19 has had an immediate impact on all of us, and it has forced us all to consider profoundly our roles and responsibilities. At the Advertising Association, we began 2020 with a new mission to champion the importance of responsible advertising and its value to people, society, businesses and the economy. Our focus on responsibility was supported by research from advertising’s think tank, Credos, which has shown declining levels of public trust over the past decade. In the most recent polling of a list of trusted industries measured by Savanta ComRes for Credos, just 44% of respondents stated they trusted advertising.

This decline in trust is even more significant now as people look to trust institutions, news sources and businesses like never before. It is for all of us in advertising to meet this trust by behaving as responsible corporate citizens.

Just as the country is pulling together, our industry has made many contributions to the national effort to combat the epidemic. Businesses have provided advertising inventory to support our NHS workers and brands across the country are turning their resources to those in need. The UK Out of Home industry has launched ‘Grateful Britain’, a nationwide digital Out of Home campaign to pass on the nation’s gratitude to NHS staff and other key workers. Broadcasters such as Channel 4 have joined forces with advertisers to show solidarity and support for key workers, by creating special ad breaks to promote the #ClapForOurCarers initiative. Brands like Unilever and BrewDog have diverted their manufacturing focus to producing hand sanitiser, while others have donated produce or a percentage of their turnover to charitable causes.

Media owners have seen incredible audience growth over recent weeks as people have turned to them as reliable sources of news and information. Some of our news brands have seen traffic increase in some cases by over 100%. But beyond their role as sources of news, our media industry has also been a familiar friend to millions confined indoors. ITV, for example, has seen traffic to its hub increase by 82% year-on-year. People have been looking for entertainment and a counterpoint to the news during this sad outbreak.

By acting together, we can be more responsible, more trusted and more successful.

Keith Weed

Responsibility in action

But responsibility doesn’t just lie in consumer-facing campaigns or products, however crucial they may be. Responsibility is also at the heart of how our advertising industry functions. It lies in paying bills in a timely fashion, ensuring those throughout the advertising eco-system and supply chain are supported, that we don’t add to the economic pressures that some are already feeling. Cash flow is crucial to us all. Our recent industry survey has shown this issue will become even more acute over the next three-to-six months. We owe it to our supply chain and the entire advertising eco-system to pay on time and as agreed.

We have also become adept in the past few weeks in remote working. I have been impressed how agencies have adapted to meeting clients’ briefs with a team based in many different locations. This is responsibility in action, adapting to, and taking control of, a challenging situation in the best way for you, your client and your colleagues. The latter point is crucial.

Working from home can be lonely. It is easy to feel disconnected and anxious, especially when there is a health emergency in action and an economic emergency unfolding. A business that cares for its staff is not only a good and responsible employer in the moment but will inspire respect and loyalty for the future. The same can be said of how a business services customers and clients. A relationship strengthened in hard times flourishes long after the crisis ends.

I am hopeful this present crisis will end soon, that the traumatic events of the past few weeks will have some positive outcomes. It has forced us to adapt to a new way of working, living and co-operating and given us the chance to reassess what it means to be a responsible industry as advertising professionals. It will be a missed opportunity if, following this crisis, we simply return to how we were before. 

I want to see our industry learn from the COVID-19 outbreak, to build on the responsibility agenda that our members, the industry leaders, have called for. By acting together, we can be more responsible, more trusted and more successful. When we do this, we won’t just be giving back to our consumers and the wider country, we will be ensuring our colleagues are proud to work for us, that we ourselves are proud to work in advertising. Despite the challenges right now, if we all take ownership of our responsibilities, we will emerge from this as a world-leading industry right at the heart of a dynamic economy and a vibrant society.


Keith Weed is President of the Advertising Association and one of the world’s most influential and successful marketers. The former CMO of Unilever retired from the business after almost four decades last May. At Unilever he championed the development of brands with purpose through Unilever’s crafting Brands for Life strategy. Recent recognition includes Forbes ‘World’s Most Influential CMO’ in 2017 and 2018, ‘Global Marketer of the Year’ by the World Federation of Advertisers and The Drum’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018. Outside Unilever, Weed is Chairman of Business in the Community International and a Business in the Community Board Trustee, President of the History of Advertising Trust, an Effie Board Director and Trustee of Grange Park Opera. He is also a Fellow of The Marketing Society, and as an engineering graduate, a Fellow of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers.