ISBA president warns industry must ready itself for further ad crackdowns

Peter Duffy stresses the need for collaboration.

ISBA president Peter Duffy: a number of industry verticals could face ad restrictions
ISBA president Peter Duffy: a number of industry verticals could face ad restrictions

Marketers operating in the gambling, alcohol, lending, travel and automobile sectors should brace themselves for attention from NGOs calling for ad crackdowns, the president of ISBA has warned.

In his annual address to the advertiser body’s members, Moneysupermarket chief executive Peter Duffy took on the tightening of the restrictions on marketing food that is high in fat, salt or sugar by the government in a bid to curb childhood obesity.

The measures, that have drawn an angry response from some sections of adland, are a ban on HFSS online advertising for large companies and a 9pm TV watershed restriction for the advertising of these products.

Duffy, a former easyJet, Audi and Barclays marketer, said in the speech on Tuesday (6 July): “For gambling, for alcohol, for financial institutions offering loans, for automobile manufacturers and travel companies – pause and take note. 

“Because the same societal concerns that drive NGO activity around obesity are likely to turn their attention to your sector’s advertising. The issue will most likely be well intentioned, but the implementation is equally likely to be crude. And the die has been cast.”

Duffy spoke of how an in-depth alternative, pan-industry approach – developed by ISBA, the IAB and the IPA and built on technology –would have allowed ministers to achieve their goal of preventing children from viewing HFSS ads online was dismissed as “insufficient”.

“Let that sink in for a second. Because the weight of those words should land with all of us. 

“Government is saying to you as marketers: ‘We believe that no control exists which makes targeted digital advertising safe or accurate. So much so that we will ban it for an entirely legal product like food and drink.’”

He urged those working in gambling, alcohol, financial institutions offering loans, autos and travel brands to “pause and take note”.

“The same societal concerns that drive NGO activity around obesity are likely to turn their attention to your sector’s advertising,” he said. “The issue will most likely be well intentioned, but the implementation is equally likely to be crude. And the die has been cast.” 

As well as the HFSS restrictions, he outlined a number of significant developments over the next two years:

  • A government digital advertising review. 
  • The results of the review of the Gambling Act, “where we will likely see a debate on advertising restrictions”. 
  • Global precedents for banning advertising for certain industries based on environmental concerns. 
  • The CMA report into the digital advertising ecosystem. 
  • The efficacy of self-regulation in a digital age “being tested by Government”. 
  • The "serious debate on representation and inclusion". 
  • And “our collective response” to the climate crisis. 

Origin ‘hasn’t been easy’

In a wide-ranging speech, Duffy touched on Origin, the cross-media measurement project that has received a lukewarm response from some parts of the industry, most notably the broadcasters.

“If we are honest, it hasn’t been easy. But addressing the most fundamental challenges never is. We still have a lot of work to do, but with a working prototype of the platform in place we have made significant progress.

“Whilst the UK is currently the most advanced, this is a global ambition,” he added. “Working with the World Federation of Advertisers and the ANA in the US, we are energised by the clear message from all our individual and joint members ... like Marc Pritchard at P&G, Raja Rajamannar at MasterCard, and Conny Braams at Unilever,” he said.

ISBA is “working very hard” to get the broadcasters more actively involved, he pledged.

On transparency around online media buying, Duffy reported that a cross-industry taskforce has provided “the forum for advertisers, ad tech and publishers to come together regularly” and there is “agreement on what needs to happen next”.

Throughout the address, Duffy stressed the importance of collaboration. To emphasise this, at the end of the speech he was joined by IPA president and VCCP vice-chair Julian Douglas.

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