Bob Wootton, the director of media and advertising at ISBA with a remit to provide the "voice of British advertisers", is beginning to sound like he is out to save their souls as well.
These are precarious times, he told me, referencing a piece he had written for MediaTel. After years of the public’s attitude towards advertising being "static", which admittedly could be down to indifference just as easily as anything else, the mood has taken a turn for the worse.
Wootton believes the negative sentiments highlighted in recent times can be attributed to a sustained trend of "thoughtless, hectoring advertising on TV", coupled with too many cheap ads indiscriminately invading the online experience. He fears the situation could worsen as publishers chase ever-more digital spend, preferably programmatically.
I mentioned his concerns to one agency chief executive later that night, whose reaction was illuminating. This was highly contentious ground we were venturing into, he observed, and warned that it could be construed as a case of "biting the hand that feeds you".
'The algorithm of Facebook is now completely geared towards rewarding people for the things they enjoy'
Of course, he is right. But that’s precisely why I admire Wootton’s comments. It’s the part of advertising we are less eager to confront, despite being reminded about it with every passing millionth download of any number of global ad-blocking services.
We know the default defence: advertising makes a £100 billion contribution to the UK economy. And, as the last Advertising Association Advertising Pays study highlighted, it also funds the media, culture and sport people love and enjoy. But the industry cannot afford to be complacent.
So it was promising to hear a new reason for hope the following day in Brighton, when Facebook’s UK leader, Steve Hatch, presented a compelling case for good ads, properly targeted. He noted how the algorithm of the world’s biggest social network is now completely geared towards rewarding people with the things they enjoy and want to spend time with, including its advertising.
The result, according to Hatch, is a situation where "for the first time ever, good work is cheaper than bad work… if you’re acting in a way that is [considered] more negative in advertising, it will cost you more to do that".
The ramifications of this evolution of social could yet be significant. Amid all the change, a better return on investment remains the most sure-fire way to make advertisers and their agencies take notice.