Examining our conscience

The irrepressible Tim Lefroy, CEO of the Advertising Association, achieved a near miracle in persuading so many leaders of our industry to take time off from solving the problems of other brands to focus on the state of our shared brand – ‘advertising’ – at Lead 2012.  After the inspiring speakers, thought-provoking discussions and quality gossip we left the morning fired up.   A week and a half later, and after examining our conscience here at Thinkbox, I thought I’d share some of our thoughts on the big issues and calls to action that emerged.

Be positive about the industry

We’re unlikely to get all the sceptical, perfection-seeking and ever-so-slightly paranoid citizens of advertising to become Pollyannas overnight, and who would want them to?   But we do resort to negativity and doom-mongering too readily.  If you’re constantly predicting your own demise, you stop doing the things that matter and you sink into grumbling inertia.  As in Cavafy’s poem,  the Barbarians might never even come, but by then we will have destroyed much of what we value.

There’s also a journalistic angle to this.  I’m never going to persuade Campaign to bin ‘Turkey of the Week’, I guess because it’s more interesting to position things as winners and losers.  But we should politely ask our industry journalists to be more referees than police, viz to approve of the game they are writing about.  None of us should use the phrase ‘junk’ food for instance; there’s nothing ‘junk’ about a pack of Lurpak or a bar of Green & Black’s.  And even national media, with their increasing dependence on advertising, should consider whether they are genuinely acting in the public’s interest before they write/film anti-advertising stories.

So how does Thinkbox perform on the positivity front? Could do better really.  We pride ourselves on never denigrating other media, and we promote integration and how TV works with other media in our research and events.  We celebrate success through the Thinkboxes and the TV Planning Awards.  But occasionally our vigorous defence of TV against the mountains of telly-bashing descends into tetchiness and sarcasm.  Sorry.

Prove the value of advertising to business and the economy…

Advertisers tell us this is what they need most of all from trade bodies.  Luckily the proof is there in bucket-loads.  I think the industry has done well on this issue, with special praise for the IPA’s continuous dedication to the cause of effectiveness.  Not only does the IPA encourage the sharing of advertising’s success stories through its Effectiveness Awards, it also takes them to the city, where the message is finally getting through.  Few analysts today approve of companies cutting their marketing investment to hit short-term profit targets.

But the industry can get over-obsessed with interim measures -  coverage, views, likes, and even recall – when ultimately it’s business outcomes that are the only meaningful metric.   We need to guard against championing the latest fashionable trend without subjecting it to adequate scrutiny.  This never-ending downturn has also prompted a misplaced emphasis on saving advertisers money (discounts, free/earned media etc.) rather than making them money.

I like to think we’re doing our best on this issue with several waves of really robust and impartial Payback research, which have shown that all media broadly generate extra profit for most categories of advertiser.  TV has consistently been proved to generate the most profit (effectiveness) and do it most efficiently (ROI) but we also advise what’s the optimum share for TV and that’s rarely 100%.

In fact, you can come along to an event that we are sponsoring and have organised that seeks to prove that all Government advertising saves the country money, and not just TV.  The Debating Group event is on March 26th at the House of Commons, where you can hear Stephen Woodford and Mark Lund make the case on behalf of all of us.

On balance, I think Thinkbox does its bit on this one.

…while promoting sustainability

This is the tough one.  We can undoubtedly prove that advertising generates profit and kickstarts economies.  But can advertising do that while persuading us to consume less?  Most of the responsibility for sustainability inevitably lies with manufacturing, but advertising can play its part by educating people about more sustainable alternatives and how to change behaviours like lowering the temperature of laundry-washing etc.

But can it do even more?  We know that advertising creates strong emotional rewards for people.  We genuinely enjoy the branded cola more than the own-label one despite few discernible, rational differences.  We enjoy the GÜ pudding more than one twice as big and half the price because of the layers of meaning that its packaging and advertising have created.   If the challenge for the planet is to get people to consume less – but happily while maintaining profitability – I frankly don’t think it can be done without advertising.   This is a noble challenge for our industry that we should grab.

We take some comfort from the fact that TV advertising helps pay for the news and current affairs programmes that highlight this issue and even some programmes that tackle it head on, like Hugh’s Fish Fight.  As for Thinkbox itself, we haven’t even begun to address this issue – apart from the normal recycling that goes on in any modern office.   But we promise to do so.

It’s been sobering to reflect on how well – or not – we live up to Lead 2012’s mission.   Do give your own company the AA audit.

  • Tess Alps
    Tess Alps
    Chair, Thinkbox
  • Posted under
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