Keith Weed tells industry to ‘double down’ and help make advertising noble again

New research reveals that trust in advertising has fallen to a record low of 25%, with Unilever’s outgoing marketing chief calling on the ad industry to work together to overcome the challenges.

Unilever marketing boss Keith Weed

As trust in advertising hits an all time low, Unilever CMO Keith Weed has used his first address as the Advertising Association’s new president to call on brands, media owners and agencies to “sit down, not shout and scream” at one another in a collective bid to make advertising noble again.

Speaking at the Advertising Association’s annual LEAD conference today (30 January), Weed said: “There clearly is a trust problem. Trust has to ultimately come from the people we serve. So if we’re not getting the public’s trust then rolling it back counts for nothing.”

A new report from Credos reveals trust in advertising dropped to a record low of 25% in December, down from 35% in 2017 and 48% in 1992.

While many have blamed the decline on the rapid shift to digital and subsequent gold rush to build data capabilities, Weed says this has been a necessary evolution from brands to “build new muscles” and avoid going out of business. And in contrast to those forecasting the pendulum will swing back to more traditional forms of media as a result, Weed doesn’t believe this will be the case.

“I’m not some sort of digital convert, I spend Unilever’s money where consumers spend their time. I don’t think we’re now on our way back to good old ex-advertising. What we do need to do is double down on sorting out these issues, which are industry issues.

This is an industry issue. If you want to go quickly, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.

Keith Weed, Unilever

“We have problems about data but we also have problems with annoying TV ads. We have to stand up and say, ‘how do we recast advertising in a way that delivers what it’s meant to: engaging people, sharing information, building brands?’ We need to make it noble again.”

As the AA’s new president, Weed is calling for a system change within the UK advertising industry to address the long-term decline in public trust of advertising. Key initiatives of his plan for 2019 include:

1. Reducing the negative impact of bombardment
2. Best practice to address excessive frequency and retargeting
3. Raising awareness of self-regulation of advertising content
4. Raising awareness of effective regulation of data usage in advertising
5. Gathering industry-wide support advertising as a force for good.

Weed’s agenda comes as Unilever claims to have made “significant steps” in working towards building the advertising industry’s first cross-media measurement model – a development that will, if successful, have a significant impact on improving the transparency and accountability of the digital advertising ecosystem.

Speaking to Marketing Week after the conference, Weed – who will continue to be involved with the initiative after he leaves Unilever at the beginning of May – said the next step is to get more players around the table.

“It was important to work up a prototype pilot that we’ve looked at in several markets but it will work best as an industry,” he said. “This is an industry issue. If you want to go quickly, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. We’ve quickly developed something with the key players, now the best thing if we’re going to transform this whole system change, we need to do it collectively.”

Unilever already has the support of Facebook and Google, which have both faced increased scrutiny in recent years for numerous issues around transparency, brand safety and measurement, as well as for their lack of accountability as technology platforms that are in fact, many would argue, media owners.

Of this Weed said: “I know senior people at the top of Google and Facebook and Twitter; none of them want anything other than the platform to be a successful positive impact on the people they serve and our society. What they have though are real issues that need to be addressed quickly and until they are fully addressed we will have those issues.”

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