2017: is this the real life?

“...Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality. Open your eyes, look up to the skies and see.” Freddie Mercury wrote those words in 1975 but they could easily be applied to 2017, argues IPA Director General Paul Bainsfair.

Following a rollercoaster year of Trump’s tweets, Brexit wrangling, a snap election, a royal engagement and the triumph of Love Island, we end 2017 in a sea of economic, geo-political and societal uncertainty.

And this turmoil has, inevitably, affected adland. As the latest Bellwether Report shows, despite overall net growth in marketing budgets, 70% are in stasis.

Coupled with this is an air of distrust in society, as Matthew D’Ancona and I recently discussed in my latest IPA AdTalk podcast, a distrust that has also permeated into our own business in parts.

But before we all get our coats…

It may surprise some of you to hear that are doing well as an industry.

UK advertising expenditure grew 3.7% to £10.8bn during the first six months of 2017, the largest H1 total of any year since monitoring began in 1982, and our longevity is testament to the enduring effectiveness of what we do. In the spring of this year, the IPA celebrated our Centenary with a Festival of Advertising and a Royal Charter for our profession.

If we are to continue this momentum, however, it is vital that we hold our nerve and maintain our confidence.

The recent IPA Effectiveness Week was a fine demonstration of the relevance and power of our ideas. The ability of the advertising industry to adapt to the changing world has always been one of our key characteristics. What we do has the power to transform our clients’ business. We must never tire of demonstrating our talents to the business community who all too often misunderstand or marginalise the role of marketing and advertising.

Another lesson learned this year, as our Bellwether Report shows, is that there is a propensity to plough disproportionate funds into digital but it is imperative that we view digital as part of a full and balanced media mix. As Les Binet and Peter Field so ably demonstrate in our Media in Focus publication, the most effective campaigns are ones that maintain a 60:40 ratio of long-term, brand building media with shorter-term sales activation media.

We must also remember regarding digital, with great scale and power comes great responsibility, for which our cross-industry work on brand safety has been a critical part of our efforts this year. Our determination to see faster progress in this area led to our open letter to Facebook and Google in the summer. Our subsequent and ongoing dialogue with them on this is on course to ensure a much safer environment for our client’s advertising.

Equally, we must ensure that independent and robust data on ad verification and measurement is of the high standard we expect from all media channels. JICS work in this area is instrumental and we were proud to help formalise JICWEBS into a full-time operating limited company this year.

Data and technology does, of course, form the cornerstone of IPA President’s Sarah Golding’s timely ‘Magic and the Machines’ agenda. Through a focus on IPAI we have hosted some brilliant talks to push everyone’s knowledge of what is possible. Amongst many other things we have heard from IBM’s Watson, looked at how creativity works differently on mobiles and listened to lectures on the rise and potential fall of the big four (or GAFA for short).

In order to master the machines, we do of course need all the talent we can get our hands on. To help address this, we are leading the drive towards attracting the right STEM and BAME talent from all walks of life. Over 9000 people came through the doors of our IPA Centenary Festival of Advertising with hundreds of schoolchildren enjoying a tour of the exhibition.

We also asked ad agencies all over the UK to throw open their doors to people of all ages and skill sets, including school leavers, students, those returning to work and career switchers, in our hugely successful Advertising Unlocked Programme.

At a political level we have given evidence in the House of Lords on the importance of our industry to the economy and we are working with the Advertising Association on talent issues surrounding Brexit.

And as you will see in the figures published in Campaign in January, we will continue to chart our agencies’ diversity levels and to highlight the myriad of inspiring diversity initiatives that you and we are investing in to improve our industry make-up and to drive equality throughout.

We are undoubtedly in uncertain times but as outlined above, there are steps you can take to thrive “anywhere the wind blows” you: from securing robust data to ensuring a balanced media mix, to attracting and retaining diverse talent, to exploring the world of AI with our President.

The IPA will, of course, continue to help you navigate this. On which note, look out for my quarterly updates which will be dropping into your inboxes throughout 2018 – particularly on GDPR regulations which come into force from May, and check out the news on our website announcing our range of upcoming IPA initiatives, events, and publications.

Here’s to weathering the uncertainty together and to an effective, productive and Fandango-filled New Year. Cheers everyone!

Last updated 21 January 2022