5 things we learnt at Advertising Week Europe

As Advertising Week Europe draws to a close, we take a look at the big issues – from ad blocking and data regulation to marketing’s image problem – that have been up for discussion.

Brands need to move into a post customer-centric world

Marketing has to move beyond being customer-centric into a world of “being people-centric”, according to Nina Bibby, marketing and customer director at O2

Speaking on a panel at Advertising Week Europe, on why brands need to embed themselves in culture and start engaging with what consumers care about, Bibby said: “It’s easy for us as marketers to overestimate our role in our customer’s lives, we think about our products and services a lot and they don’t. Even in my category people aren’t thinking about it they are just using it.”

Bibby was joined on stage by Alex Dimiziani, EMEA head of marketing at Airbnb, Andrew Geoghegan, global head of consumer planning at Diageo,  and Tim Hulbert, group head of insight and research at Barclays, who all argued for the increasing need to tap into culture to remain relevant.

Ignoring the rise in popularity of craft beer and drinkers “reacting to big brands” would be detrimental for Diageo because the category is “shaped by culture”, according to Geoghegan.

“If we fail to ignore the cultural context that shapes alcohol consumption we are pretty much dead in the water.”

Andrew Geoghegan, global head of consumer planning, Diageo

Airbnb’s Dimiziani added: “It’s becoming fundamental to the decision-making process for consumers, both in terms of what they’re buying but also the brands they want to identify with and advocate for and remain loyal to.”

She added that a big draw when she joined Airbnb in 2014, from Coca-Cola, was that the business “was created for a purpose” rather than being “a business that created a purpose and then embedded it”.

For Barclay’s perspective, Hulbert told delegates that the brand had “lost sight” of the role it plays in society. He explained: “Banks were set up to help societies and communities progress, it’s quite frustrating in a way because we serve a really fantastic societal function, but we have lost sight of that.”

But Hulbert added that trying to “re-inject purpose and meaning” back into the brand is the biggest initiative it has had in the organisation over the last three years.

New data regulations are an opportunity, not a risk

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is due to come into force in June 2018, with brands that fail to comply risking a fine of up to 4% of their global turnover.

It will include changes such as the right to be forgotten, where brands could become responsible for deleting personal data that they hold or have passed to third parties if a consumer withdraws consent for processing it. User profiling, meanwhile, could potentially be subject to explicit consent.

Read more: What new data laws mean for marketers

Stephen McCartney, director of information governance at the Royal Mail, said that while brands should prepare for the changes, they shouldn’t lose too much sleep. “The Information Commissioners Office made accommodations after the cookie laws changed and you’d expect them to adapt a common sense framework this time around as well.”

Claire Knight, head of data protection at L’Oreal, says brands should see the new regulations as an opportunity, rather than a risk, warning that if brands do not embrace the changes they risk alienating consumers.

She explained: “Customers want more transparency. If they don’t get it from brands, well things like ad blockers happen.

“We have a real opportunity here to make customers aware of how we as brands use their data and to be honest. We don’t want to create a reaction like ad blocking again.”

Claire Knight, head of data protection, L’Oreal

Ad blocking could be come an epidemic

New figures from eMarketer suggest ad blocking could become an “epidemic” if the industry doesn’t look “long and hard” at how to overcome it. Its research estimates that more than a quarter (27%) of internet users could be using ad blockers by 2017.

Sarah Mansfield, VP of global media at Unilever, acknowledged the problem but said the brand saw it as an opportunity to learn what consumers want from advertising on the internet. “You have to learn from ad blockers. It has made us even more committed to creating positive brand experiences and advertising that users enjoy.”

Ad blocking is a problem not just for brands but for publishers that monetise their content through ads. Many, including City AM and the Telegraph, have been tracking visitors using ad blockers and either blocking them from accessing content or asking them to whitelist the site.

However Alexander Hanff, CEO of Think Privacy, claimed that using scripts to track user behaviour is a breach of European law. “You [publishers] have to learn to live with ad blockers as your audience has a right to use one,” he advised.

Tim Gentry, the Guardian’s global revenue director, disagreed and said the newspaper brand is looking into ways to block access to its content if readers are using an ad blocker.

“What we’ve seen is that up to two-thirds of ad blocker users are willing to whitelist us, because they want quality content,” he claimed. “With a small section of our audience we’ve tried to be far more persistent, asking them to either whitelist us, pay to become a member or tell us they’re a subscriber. Moving forward, with a small sub-sect of people we’ll start to block access to content.”

The ad industry’s concerns about Brexit


There was no shortage of controversial opinions about the upcoming EU Referendum at Advertising Week Europe. Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone declared himself “100%” in favour of leaving the EU and said he did not believe that immigrants had made any contribution to the UK. This was one of several headline-grabbing claims by the 85-year-old, including the contention that Russian president Vladimir Putin “should be running Europe”. 

WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell, who interviewed Ecclestone on stage, put up a robust defence of the EU and revealed the anxieties that are starting to grip the adverting world around a potential UK exit. He suggested that WPP would “lose influence in our top four markets” if the UK was no longer part of the EU. “I know clients will close plants and jobs will go,” he added.

Tim Lefroy, CEO of the Advertising Association, said his trade body was not taking a public stance on the referendum, but argued that the industry “will be resilient whether we are in or out” due to the UK’s strength as an exporter of advertising services. He claimed the UK had successfully exported various advertising practices to the rest of Europe, including the model of self-regulation pioneered by the Advertising Standards Authority. 

A panel of executives from across the media and advertising world also expressed concerns about the potential impact of Brexit on the country’s global image. For example, Bauer Media CEO Paul Keenan argued that it would not fit with the increasingly international perspective of young people in the UK and Europe.

“Young people are native multiculturalists and can’t imagine not being a part of that,” he explained.

Brand purpose is the ‘natural thing to do’

Brand purpose is front of mind for many marketers as consumers increasingly look for brands that have a social conscience and don’t just want to sell. Both The Big Issue and Pearson discussed why brands should feel obliged to do social good.

Pearson’s VP of brand Emilie Coker said its Project Literacy campaign, which features advocates such as model Lily Cole talking up the negative social impact of illiteracy, had a 800% return on investment.


She advised: “As marketers we can shock and provoke in useful ways. This campaign blew all our benchmarks away. Ultimately, we’ve found that customers will always choose a purpose-driven brand over one that isn’t prepared to say anything.”

Nigel Kershaw, executive chair at the Big Issue, agreed, saying millennials in particular have more affinity for brands that stand for something. He used the example of its recent Change Please campaign, which gives homeless people the opportunity to become coffee stall vendors and has already sold 78,000 cups of coffee. Successful charities, he claimed, must present “an offer and not an ask”.

Read more: Big Issue on how its coffee partnership has helped battle brand misconceptions

“We’re not just asking for people’s money, we’re making people entrepreneurs,” he told delegates. “Millennials want to stand for something and that will only grow with the future generations. Brand purpose has to become a natural thing to do.”


Knowledge Bank


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