Ian Twinn: the outgoing ISBA director of public affairs
Ian Twinn: the outgoing ISBA director of public affairs
A view from Ian Twinn

Protect our ad heritage and plan for the future

Outgoing ISBA director of public affairs Ian Twinn reflects on more than 18 years at the industry body.

Advertising has been a big part of my world for the past two decades. It was a steep learning curve at first but I had some great ISBA tutors in John Hooper, Bob Wootton, Debbie Morrison and Malcolm Earnshaw. The schooling was intense. And, at times, it was also quite lunch focused.

Now, 18-and-a-half years later, the lunches are a distant memory but the appreciation of what marketing comms is all about is not. It has been great.

Much of my time as the public affairs person speaking out for British advertisers has been dominated by political and pressure-group campaigns against advertising. There has been a bizarre belief that banning advertising will protect children from some of the things that society unwittingly wishes upon them. It is nonsense, of course. Often, calls for bans only reflect the fact that the real answers are too difficult to grasp.

Looking back, it is our self-regulation system – with the CAP codes and advertisers’ willing support for our independent regulator, the Advertising Standards Authority – that has delivered responsible advertising.

I continue to be grateful to have had a hand in helping members of the Committees of Advertising Practice to get the balance right between consumer protection and advertising – an important and vibrant tool for a successful UK economy. And the valuable experience I gained as chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce’s UK marketing committee I was able to use when sitting on the ICC’s global advertising codes commission.

Is there a message I want to leave on the table? Yes. Look after our advertising heritage and plan for the future. 

Value our history

Being a trustee of the History of Advertising Trust is teaching me a lot about our heritage by working with inspiring campaigns alongside some of the greats who created them.

Advertisers, media owners and agencies have a chance to ensure that the things we have learned over the last 100 years are not lost, only to be expensively reinvented again and again. HAT has a big part in helping our businesses to achieve this.

Picking one thing I am most proud of above all others is almost impossible. But if there is to be only one, it has to be Media Smart, the non-profit media literacy programme for children. I sat with some foresighted and dedicated people at the founding meeting, saw it flourish, helped it over a bump or two and now see it going from strength to strength.

Advertisers, media owners and agencies have a chance to ensure that the things we have learned over the last 100 years are not lost, only to be expensively reinvented again and again.

Helping new generations to understand what advertising is, why it can work and what we should be cautious about is a key mission. Using the power of advertising for education, self-awareness and empowerment has been a fulfilling journey and one that has some way to go.

Brexit is with us and the negotiations start soon. Is this a key issue for advertising? Probably. As an ex-MEP, I might be expected to be in despair but I am not. I predict there will be no vast bonfire of "EU red tape".

We will need to depend on many EU rules in the years to come and we will not have an easy way to influence them. Yet it wasn’t that easy as an EU member. The majority in the parliament in my time was barely in favour of free global trade and a lot more interested in protectionism. That way sows the seeds of economic decline. We need to speak positively about the UK to the whole world, no matter what side of the fence in the referendum we were on. Our outlook should be positive.

Today many of our marketing concerns are about digital. Sometimes I think people think it is new. Tell me what part of the advertising chain is not at core digital? (OK, I’ll give you sandwich boards.) Let’s get over the technology and focus on how we use it to reach consumers. Yes, of course, there are problems with digital serving of ads and there will be new problems coming along as these programmatic issues are resolved or we will see advertisers move on somewhere else. 

Trust digital but verify it

What digital does deliver is a global rather than a national perspective. That should suit us as a trading nation seeking our fortune without boundaries.

Advertising will be a key part of our exports and a key part of our business armoury. Trust digital but verify.

The most important commodity in this day and age is the data that is readily available and easily accessible. We need to protect it from fraudulent activities, from the ever-encroaching governments and from misuse. Will the advertising ecosystem change? Will there be significant threats? Yes, almost certainly. But I have every confidence that ISBA and UK advertisers will adapt smoothly and move with the consumers.

It is always right to start our communications planning with the sole purpose of our activity. And that can only be to relate to consumers, to engage with consumers and, we hope, delight them time and again.

Let us as a whole industry regain our vigour and trust. Let’s make consumers talk about advertising in a good way through our creativity. Without that, advertising is just a little bit pointless.

Twinn's achievements

  • Supported self-regulation against the threat of new laws and bans
  • Helped bring in European consumer protection laws and cross-border enforcement
  • Championed environmental claims rules
  • Helped extend the CAP code with a wider digital remit
  • Steered government automotive fuel-consumption rules to help make them work

Ian Twinn is the outgoing ISBA director of public affairs.