News & Insights

LEAD 2024: Responsible Growth, Trust in Advertising & Investment in Talent

Suitably located for an election year, The QE11 Centre in Westminster was the setting for last week’s Advertising Association LEAD 2024 conference in conjunction with ISBA and the IPA.

The conference theme for 2024 was Responsible Growth: Advertising’s trusted, inclusive, and sustainable role in helping the UK return to economic and social prosperity.

In contrast to other conferences, there was little talk around more populist topics such as ad fraud, ecommerce, and speculation about the chances of success for Amazon Prime as an ad platform.

However, the agenda was extensive and addressed some of the key topics that will shape the work of advertisers, agencies and media owners throughout the year and brought the world of politics and advertising together in this most critical of election years.

MediaSense UK Business Director, Ian Anders, summarises key themes from the event.

The UK’s Economic Outlook

Rain Newton-Smith, chairman of the CBI opened the conference. She spoke about the need for political consensus on the requirements for long term growth and for both parties to focus on practical solutions and to be bold enough to ‘stay the course’ for the long-term benefit of UK business.

This was followed by keynote speeches by The Government and Opposition. Whilst, for obvious reasons, both gave guarded responses, the support and acknowledgement by both parties of the global importance of our creative and advertising industry was heartening. This was backed by commitments to support creative education so that the industry can continue to have a pool of talent for future employment, reiterating the importance of AI as a force for good to increase online safety and reduce fraudulent advertising to improve the advertising landscape for the industry and consumers.

Public Trust in Advertising

Michael Grade, Chairman of Ofcom kicked off the first of two sessions around the implementation of The Online Safety Act, a significant piece of new legislation. He spoke about how Ofcom is gearing up to set out the rules under which the act will be governed and its powers to duties to respond to risk to improve the public trust in advertising. It will do this by providing more transparency in the supply chain and reduce illegal advertising to keep children safe whilst reiterating the platforms responsibility to comply and invest more funds to do so.

Whilst the Online Safety Bill will take time to take effect there was a call to action for advertisers to get ahead of the game by prioritising online safety by making sure that their campaigns are effectively monitored,  ask questions of the platforms and to demand action from them.

He cited the safety issues that affected YouTube in 2020 which led to Google hiring 10,000 safety engineers worldwide and the advertising exodus from Twitter/X as brand safety levels fell by 30%

This was complimented by a session led by the ASA highlighting that trust in advertising was improving slowly and how it intends to increase the use of AI technologies to improve the regulation of online advertising through active monitoring using machine learning to identify problems – and continue to work with regulators and the platforms to ensure compliance standards are met.

Advertisers have skin in the game in this area through the ASBOF levy that funds the ASA, as well as a fundamental need for advertising to be placed in desirable and contextually relevant environments.

The morning session was rounded up by an impassioned Keynote address by the Rt Hon Gordon Brown talking about the current poverty crisis in the UK and laid out a plan of action for how brands and corporations can actively contribute to change to help families in need by supporting charities such as  The Trussell TrustThe Felix ProjectIn-Kind Direct, and The Multibank  to help provide them with the goods they need.

Responsible Growth through Advertising

The afternoon sessions were more grounded in areas of advertising, media and technology and the extent of their contribution to responsible growth.

There was also an informative Q&A session on the topic of greener growth including ITV, eBay and System1 providing a deep dive into how advertising can foster positive changes in consumer behaviour.

Verica Djurdjevic led an excellent session ‘Beyond Representation’ about how Channel 4’s Diversity in Advertising Award sets out to improve authentic representation in British TV ads. It was a perfect opportunity to highlight Havas and Reckitt’s award winning Vanish campaign and how the portrayal of a disability was able to bridge the gap between social impact and commercial success.

A conference would not be a conference without an AI session. Meta & Google were given the stage to talk about how they were enhancing responsible growth through AI technologies to improve advertisers ROI through innovative media products, improving the user experience through creative and messaging delivery and improving brand safety. As interesting as it was, the ‘ pitch’ unfortunately didn’t address advertisers concerns for transparency in product areas such as PMAX and Advantage+.

The most relevant session for brands present in the room was left to towards the end of the day. At a time when it is almost game over for third-party cookies, James Chandler, CMO of the IAB UK bought to life alternative scenarios for advertisers and how these scenarios would play out which he called a ‘sliding doors moment’ for advertisers.

His clarion call was one of balanced and practical advice to continue to ask questions of your agency, the platforms (and your trusted media measurement partner!) around how data is really being utilised and activated, to investigate multiple solutions and keep testing as standing still is not an option.

The LEAD conference continues to be an important part of the events calendar, positioning itself firmly at the heart of some of the industries ‘high level’ topics whilst provoking much thought in a watershed election year amidst a challenging economic backdrop.

Photography credit: ©BronacMcNeill

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