The key takeaways from ISBA’s annual conference

ISBA held its annual conference yesterday (9 March) with hot issues including ad blocking, the government’s obesity strategy and the rise of vloggers all high on the agenda.

Speaking at the event, ISBA president and Britvic CEO Simon Litherland called on the industry to come together to tackle the various challenges facing the ad industry. He highlighted that trust in advertising remains “very low” among consumers, while the economic and political landscape are both leading to uncertainty over future growth and consumer spending power.

“There will be no let up on pressures in 2016,” he said.

The industry must collaborate

Litherland highlighted a range of issues that will need cross-industry collaboration. One in particular that impacts his business, Britvic, is the government’s obesity strategy. Although this has been delayed until the summer, Litherland said it would be important “for all of us” because brands are able to make a real difference in promoting behavioural change.

“We need a holistic approach,” he said. “Advertising is not a driver of obesity. But advertising can promote behaviour change. Brands can reduce the sugar and calorie content of their products.

“More progress is needed and a commitment to a collaborative approach.”

On some of the issues facing digital advertising – ad fraud, online brand safety, data use and viewability – Litherland also called for cross-industry initiatives. He said that while ad blocking is a “fundamental challenge” to the marketing industry, it can be addressed with a pan-industry initiative.

“There is a cluster of significant issues that signal a significant workload is ahead. And all players must play their part in addressing them,” he concluded.

The government wants to play its part

Culture secretary John Whittingdale has been vocal in his criticism of ad blocking and he reiterated these views at the conference, calling companies that run ad blockers “modern day Al Capones” for a business model that sees publishers able to pay to appear on whitelists.

ad blockeree
The culture secretary described ad blockers as “modern day Al Capones” during the annual ISBA conference

He believes there are parallels between ad blocking and piracy, including the ways to tackle it. He said the industry needs to work on educating people and communicating the message that people can’t have something for nothing and on making ads more attractive and less annoying.

There will also be help from government, he said, as he proposed a roundtable to get all the players in the industry talking about the solution.

“Online there is an extraordinary range of services available – newspapers, apps, search engines. Google, Facebook and YouTube are part of everyday life and are all available to consumers for free, people don’t expect to have to pay for them,” said Whittingdale.

“But they have to understand that that content is the consequence of huge creativity and hard work and people have to be rewarded for it. That message needs to be more widely understood.”

However he said he wants the advertising industry to continue to self-regulate, highlighting how successful that strategy has been so far. He pointed to the fact that advertising is the second biggest creative industry in the UK, responsible for adding £10bn to the UK economy, 143,000 jobs and that growth is far above the economy as a whole.

“Like many other industries, [advertising] is something this country is extra good at. Some view advertising with suspicion and think it is brainwashing people to buy things they don’t want. I believe advertising is an essential component of a properly operating free market.”

Marketing to machines

robot
Marketers could soon be designing ad campaigns for robots, according to author Michael Florence

Artificial intelligence will be able to mirror the human mind by 2029 according to Michael Florence, science author and the creative director at Manning Gottlieb OMD.

He told delegates that brands must stop looking at AI as a sci-fi term and start to prepare for a world where they will have to create marketing campaigns that appeal to machines as well as humans.

“Google has spent $500m on their secret AI Deep Mind research project so it’s clear the rise of the machines is no longer just confined to Terminator 2 and Sky Net,” said Florence. “If AI machines will become as clever as humans and if virtual personal assistants will become the norm by 2020 then brands must start to think about designing their advertising to appeal beyond humans.”

And if marketers are to get to grips with AI, they will have to be prepared to unlearn everything they’ve been taught.

In a later presentation, L’Oreal’s UK CMO Hugh Pile advised: “As marketers we must learn how to unlearn as not everything we’ve been taught is applicable in 2016 or will be next year either. We have to be like water and adapt to our surroundings.”

An ignorance towards vloggers

Many marketers are missing out on a chance to hit millions of engaged young consumers by taking the wrong approach to the world of vlogging. That was the view of Dominic Smales, managing director of Gleam Futures, an agency which manages popular YouTube stars such as Caspar Lee and Zoella.

He said many still ‘ignorantly’ tag the likes of Zoella as a “bedroom hobby” for an “unengaged audience of purely under-18 year olds.”

Smales countered: “These are just myths as 80% of the people who watch the Gleam roster are over 18 and hugely engaged.

“Not enough brands are partnering with vloggers as they are ignorant to the realities. They are really missing out.”

Dominic Smales, MD of Gleam Futures

He was joined on stage by internet star Caspar Lee, who has nearly six million YouTube subscribers and a published book to his name.

Lee advised brands: “Vloggers aren’t going to just endorse a product as it will make us lose some of our truth and authenticity. If you want to work with us, you have to understand that you have to give up some control and you can’t just edit us.”

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