Let's silence the snipers and prove the value of ads

Credos, advertising's think tank, is responding to the critics by showing, once and for all, how the industry is a force for good.

Credos: advertising's think tank
Credos: advertising's think tank

Jamie Oliver recently took a break from making 30-minute meals to make some headlines. Celebrity brand endorsements, he claimed, are causing childhood obesity. The week before, MPs concluded that problem-drinking could be tackled with more bans on alcohol ads. On the BBC, Panorama was busy accusing marketers of lying about the effects of sports recovery drinks. Three negative stories for adland in two weeks - and don't even mention the Olympics.

Advertising, like the ads themselves, polarises opinion. But as the director of Credos, advertising's think tank, and a bit of an evidence geek, it astounds me that the debate is often so poorly informed.

It also lacks balance - there is no shortage of critics concerned about what advertising might be doing to us, but where is the case being made that advertising does more for us than is popularly appreciated?

This summer, we are going to change that. Credos has just commissioned a major new study to explain and quantify advertising's contribution to the UK economy. Crucially, this will examine not just the jobs and economic impact in the agency sector, but the broader impacts of advertising on our creative and media industries, business competitiveness, the labour market, GDP and the digital economy.

For advertising's advocates, the signs are encouraging. Last year, McKinsey & Company published research claiming that some 15 per cent of GDP growth across the G20 can be tracked back to adspend. We know adspend pumps some £16 billion into the UK economy every year, putting us among the top-five spenders in the world. As we grapple with double-dip recession, this deserves more attention.

In the digital space, we know the internet and new technologies are driving growth. Access to information and the creation of a global marketplace has produced massive economic opportunity and ushered in a new era of consumer power. At the heart of the internet's growth, of course, is the advertising model.

The vast majority of content online is advertising-funded, as are the services we all take for granted: search, self-publishing, e-mail and social networks. The Work Foundation has estimated that all of this "stuff" would cost consumers nearly £7 billion a year, if it weren't paid for by ads. That's quite a barrier to digital access and growth.

Peter Drucker contended that "there are only two things in a business that make money - innovation and marketing. Everything else is cost." The truth, of course, is that without one, you cannot have the other. With no means to bring a product to market, what's the point of innovation? Would it not follow, therefore, that businesses with access to strong advertising infrastructure might be more inclined to invest in innovation? And, once the right marketing has helped a product establish itself, competitors have an incentive to improve their own offerings or miss out. Again, it is business competitiveness that benefits - not to mention people.

Growth. The digital economy. Innovation. Global competitiveness. Isn't that the advertising agenda we should really be setting?

Sounds easy in principle, but it's tougher in practice. So we've started early, with the launch of a new resource on Credos' website that draws together the existing work on advertising's economic impact. Look around, and if you know of evidence elsewhere, get in touch.

And we'll need help from you, the industry. The project will demand as much data as we can get our hands on, robust case studies and the smartest people in the business to get stuck in. Please, get involved.

Despite the headlines and the critics (even the celebrity chefs whose incomes benefit from advertising), there are plenty of advocates for marketing. The problem is that even those who would stand up for its positive effects often don't know how to. So let's have the facts at our fingertips and the evidence to prove that advertising - love it or hate it - is a fundamental part of a modern, progressive economy.

Karen Fraser is the director at Credos.