Weed: 'Trust arrives on foot and leaves on horseback'
Weed: 'Trust arrives on foot and leaves on horseback'
A view from Keith Weed

Advertising's new age of responsibility

Our industry makes an enormous contribution to society and we now have an opportunity to rebuild public trust in what we do.

This week we launch our new mission at Lead, our annual industry summit, which is taking place at the QEII Centre in the heart of Westminster. This annual gathering is a moment for us to reflect on the past year and look forward. This time, we’re looking even further ahead with a new mission that, I believe, will help shape our industry for the coming decade.

That new mission is as follows: To promote the role and rights of responsible advertising and its value to people, society, businesses and the economy.

It provides a focus for leadership in our priority areas – to promote responsible advertising that achieves its purpose of growing businesses and the economy by better serving people and society.

The mission has been developed by our council members – more than 40 leaders across advertisers, media owners, agencies, tech platforms and trade associations. They have been clear in what they want to see for our industry in the years ahead. Our approach, a strategy that is the result of a six-month consultation, is threefold:

  • Responsibility – providing leadership and guidance on what standards are expected of UK advertising; 

  • Trust – rebuilding public trust in UK advertising; 

  • Growth – promoting advertising as a key driver of competition, innovation and growth. 

I am now in my second year as president of the Advertising Association. When I set out, I made addressing the issue of declining public trust in advertising the absolute priority. To me, rebuilding public trust in advertising sits at the heart of responsible advertising behaviour. I am hugely proud of the drive of our members, and of people across the industry more generally, to work on a system change that will help re-establish that vital bond of trust between advertising and the consumer. 

Our paper – Arresting the Decline in Public Trust in Advertising – outlined five key goals to restore public trust in advertising. These included reducing advertising bombardment and excessive frequency, supporting the role of Advertising Standards Authority as our industry’s self-regulatory body, and ensuring that people’s data privacy matters. 

We have already seen significant progress in achieving our aims through initiatives like the backing of the IAB UK Gold Standard, industry support for the ASA’s new digital-focused five-year strategy, and a forthcoming best practice guide addressing frequency capping and retargeting to be presented at the ISBA Annual Conference on February 27. 

Credos research has shown public trust in advertising is currently finely balanced, with the negatives matched by positive factors. That begs the question, how might we leverage the positives to rebuild trust? One lever that promises an opportunity is advertising’s social contribution. So, we asked Credos to help us understand the social contribution of UK advertising and its role in building public trust. 

Tomorrow we’re launching Advertising Pays 8: UK Advertising’s Social Contribution, which details the many ways that British advertising contributes to society. This can range from media inventory donated to good causes, to agency pro-bono work, and from the advertising campaigns that promote behavioural change nationwide to the thousands of hours volunteered by UK advertising professionals in corporate social responsibility activities. 

This report, with its major consumer research, is clear in its findings – we have an opportunity to rebuild public trust through advertising that makes a clear social contribution. Whether it comes from a for-profit company, an NGO or the government, advertising can apply its capabilities to produce benefits and create positive impact. 

The long journey to reverse the long, steady decline in public trust and favourability towards advertising has begun. The Advertising Association is committed to working with all parts of our industry to complete that journey.

That said, this is something for anyone who considers advertising to be their profession. We will only achieve our goal if everyone makes their own contribution, responsibly. Trust arrives on foot and leaves on horseback. If we don’t address this now, together, we will undermine the industry in which we work and weaken the important contribution it makes. 

Let’s use this moment to reflect and refresh what we believe our great industry can do, not just for businesses and the economy but for the people and society in which we live.

Keith Weed is president of the Advertising Association and former chief marketing and communications officer at Unilever