Keith Weed has urged the US ad industry to join forces with the UK to tackle the "Achilles’ heel" of declining trust in advertising and media.
Weed, president of the Advertising Association, the umbrella trade body for UK advertisers, agencies and media owners, issued what he called his "call to action" at the Advertising Week New York conference, where he said international co-operation is needed.
Trust in advertising has been in "long-term" decline in many countries around the world, but it is becoming a common problem as the ad market has moved from being largely local to global in the past decade, according to Weed, who was chief marketing and communications officer at Unilever until May.
Speaking to Campaign ahead of his appearance at Advertising Week, Weed said it is "very achievable to turn things around, but we must act now" and it needs to be done "collectively".
The ad industry faces a choice between "trust or bust", he continued, building on a theme he first articulated at the AA’s Lead conference in London in January, when he laid out five action points, including reducing ad bombardment and improving data security.
Weed said the US and UK advertising markets are "different" – for example, ad load on TV has been higher in the US, he pointed out – but they face similar challenges.
Advertising leaders on both sides of the Atlantic need to recognise that "if we don’t start building trust, then the bust will be brands not being believed and advertising not being believed", he said.
"And then you’ll find advertisers finding different ways [to reach consumers], whether that be content or sponsorship etc, which will then cause all sorts of funding problems" for media owners that depend on advertising to fund news, entertainment and other utilities.
"The good news is we’re not beyond the point of no return," Weed added. "People see advertising as a good thing with downsides, not a bad thing with upsides," citing research from the AA’s think tank Credos.
Weed’s comments will command attention because he is known as one of the world’s top marketers, after 35 years at Unilever, and he is joining WPP as a non-executive director in November.
He has travelled to New York with a delegation of UK leaders, including AA chief executive Stephen Woodford, ISBA director-general Phil Smith and IPA director-general Paul Bainsfair.
They are due to meet the Association of National Advertisers and American Association of Advertising Agencies – the US equivalents of ISBA and the IPA. There is no US version of the AA that represents the whole ad industry.
Weed said the UK and US industries have long had shared values, noting that when the AA was founded in the 1920s, the Advertising Club of New York gave the association a statue of Columbia and Britannia, the two personifications of the two countries, holding the torch of truth.
The statue is still on display in the AA's London headquarters to this day.