Industry luminaries debate adland’s LEADing issues

Karen Bradley MP, Syl Saller, Lucy Jameson, Evan Davis and Paul Feldwick were just some of the stellar names on the line-up for this year’s AA Lead Conference. They debated a range of themes from the value of advertising, politics and the economy and, increasingly under Andy Duncan's leadership, responsible advertising as a force for good. For those unable to make it, IPA Finance Director Tom Lewis has summed up the key takeaways.

LEAD political keynote Karen Bradley, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport

In a speech peppered with iconic advertising slogans, Karen talked about the importance of advertising to the UK economy and emphasised the government's support for it.

Watch Karen’s full speech here


The Big Brexit Debate

Most people now just want to get on with it, regardless of how they voted in the referendum; Brexit has opened a Pandora's box that will be the defining feature of politics for the next 20 years.

From KPMG: there is no single view from business – we are moving from grief to acceptance, but no customs union could mean longer delays in supply chains; no more next-day deliveries.

Adam and Eve DDB Chief Exec James Murphy explained that the UK is a global centre of advertising excellence because, just like pop music, we do it better than anyone else.

Host Evan Davis picked him up, noting that the agency's pro-Remain advertising clearly hadn't been as effective as their work for John Lewis, before concluding that the only response to a post-truth, Brexit and Trump world is to be the best you can, both personally and organisationally.

Watch the full discussion here


Steve Richards, political journalist

A mesmerising performance:

  • There is no better argument for the importance of advertising than Jeremy Corbin
  • The May government successfully appears to be in control whilst of necessity making up some policy on the hoof
  • May, like Gordon Brown, is instinctively a micro-manager, but this will change of necessity once the Brexit process begins and she finds herself carrying out two demanding and full time jobs - running the country and running Brexit, with all the negotiation and shuttle diplomacy required.
  • Europe proved the downfall of the last three Tory Prime Ministers - Thatcher, Major and Cameron; will it do the same to May?

Watch Steve’s full speech here


Why the big questions matter

Father and son team Paul and Oli Feldwick talked about the theories of how advertising works from Paul's excellent book, An Anatomy of Humbug.

  • Every generation since the 1870s has been shaped by and reacted to the one that preceded it
  • Clicking "I agree" to cookies is not the same as having an informed debate on digital advertising
  • Overclaims about big data's capabilities by the likes of Google could be advertising's "Hidden Persuaders" moment
  • Does advertising helps raise prices is like asking have you stopped beating your wife yet? Specsavers is profitable and prices for glasses have decreased; both companies and consumers can benefit.

Watch Paul and Oli’s full session here


Advertising advertising

Advertising ranks lower for trust than even banking, warned Stephen Woodford.

Karen Blackett of Mediacom:

  • We all in this industry believe brands should tell the truth - political advertising is no exception
  • Government Nudge unit works best alongside paid advertising, not a stand-alone.

Watch the full discussion here


The ethics of the echo chamber

Alex Steer of Maxus on data and digital:

  • On data, we are generally doing things right, but are we doing the right things?
  • We’re all digital platforms now
  • In 2006, Time Person of the year was you, in control of the internet; in 2016, it was Donald Trump
  • Nobody stands around the coffee machine talking about a brilliantly targeted ad they saw last night
  • Beware shallow pools; highly targeted ads drive short-term sales but underperform in the longer term
  • The most valuable brands are those we use on a daily basis; it is no longer cars and banks, but digital platforms
  • 2015 was the year UK advertising spend on algorithms outpaced that on editors
  • It is the job of advertising to change people's minds we need debating chambers, not echo chambers.

Watch Alex’s full speech here


A different view: what’s ahead for advertising?

Three wake-up calls from industry experts; chosen from their own fields:

  • Lucy Jameson argued advertising needs to work more with SMEs and start-ups; she recently left Grey and is setting up a new agency
  • Hamish Nicklin argued for a strong, well-funded, independent press to provide informed debate and to counter fake news, alternative facts and other anti-democratic forces; he is Chief Revenue Officer of the Guardian
  • Chris Snowdon argued for freedom of commercial speech as a right, and warned that appeasing single-issue zealots encourages them to become ever bolder in their demands; he is Head of Lifestyle Economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs.

I personally found Hamish’s perspective most convincing; by contrast, it was Chris Snowdon’s message that most resonated with the advertising audience.

Watch the discussion here


LEAD keynote, Syl Saller of Diageo, Marketing Society President

  • Ensure your brands have a purpose and do good, was Syl’s overall message:
  • We have a voice and a voice that can make a difference
  • Brands are in a position to make enormous difference to people’s lives, let’s make sure we use it
  • Strong brand purpose linked to occasion drives growth
  • Are we clear on the higher social purpose our brands can have?
  • Brands that do good and have a purpose are also more valuable for their owners
  • "Truth is only as powerful as the trust in those who speak it", quoting Time
  • Post-truth world increases our responsibility
  • Young talent wants employers with values and core purpose. Measure what matters. Lead with purpose.

Watch Syl’s full speech here


Find out more about the AA Lead Conference here, or follow the conversation on Twitter #AALEAD2017.

Last updated 21 January 2022