It's hard to escape that lingering whiff of legislation
A view from Maisie McCabe

It's hard to escape that lingering whiff of legislation

You can't move for celebrities at advertising conferences now.

Yet most of what stars have to say has very little real practical relevance to our day-to-day working lives. I myself am guilty of having my head turned, sitting through a brilliantly entertaining session by Nile Rodgers at Advertising Week Europe last year. But sometimes you do wonder what the point is.

That said, Jamie Oliver appearing at the Advertising Association’s Lead conference last week was not your average celebrity signing. First off, he wasn’t paid for his time. Moreover, he had personal experience of a key issue for the industry. Given that the AA is trying to take the initiative on the marketing of products high in sugar, salt or fat, bringing in a leading children’s food campaigner was a smart move.

Among the flattery, jokes and swear words, Oliver had a serious message. Companies should aim to do more than great stuff at their own businesses. Instead, they need to club together to do "amazing things". And he’s up for helping.

Angela Knight might not have brought the programme agenda the same star quality as Oliver, but the former chief executive of the British Bankers’ Association had lots practical advice. Adland should forget about "pushing back" against the threat of legislation and instead engage early with policy. Knight used the example of the insurance industry, which spent a lot of time and money telling people that they weren’t banks. But people didn’t see them differently.

"We are, in the end, as others see us," she said. "If the public hasn’t got the message, don’t blame the public."

The real threat of rules being imposed on the ad industry was laid bare in a session with Tom Bradby featuring the Conservative MP Caroline Nokes, Labour’s Chi Onwurah and Hannah Bardell of the Scottish National Party. None of the MPs were happy with adland’s current output and Bardell and Onwurah would like to see more regulation. Two MPs do not a parliament make but their views show the very real risk to the current situation.

Also at the lectern was Christopher Graham, the information commissioner, who issued another warning. The new European data rules are coming to get you. Data might be the new oil but it’s also the new asbestos, Graham cautioned. The penalty for getting it wrong is bigger than the €20 million you could be fined – it could be an end to digital advertising as we know it. 

So there is a lot to think about. The AA has rightly taken a proactive stance on many of these issues already. Now is the time to put some of it into practice. Or someone else will do it for you.