Brands, media owners and politicians have backed moves to put responsibility at the heart of the UK advertising industry, as the Advertising Association announced a new focus at its annual LEAD summit.

In its mission statement, the Advertising Association now pledges “to promote the role and rights of responsible advertising and its value to people, society, businesses and the economy”.

This will direct its work in three key areas it will address as part of a three-year strategy:

Responsibility: providing leadership and guidance on the standards expected of UK advertising, including the development of a new Responsibility Framework for the industry and the formation of new working groups around issues including Climate Change.

Trust: rebuilding public trust in UK advertising through the delivery of the Trust Action Plan, including the new Credos report, Advertising Pays 8, which investigates the industry’s social contribution and how this impacts on public trust.

Growth: supporting advertising’s role as a key driver of competition and innovation, including the formation of its UK Advertising Exports Group and the second year of its role as UK representative for Cannes Lions.

“Rebuilding public trust in advertising is at the heart of my tenure as President of the Advertising Association and ensuring advertising is responsible is a crucial factor in achieving this goal,” said Keith Weed. “The two things are symbiotically linked.”

Diversity and inclusion

Integral to delivering on those ambitions is a better representation of society, on screen and in business, something that business minister Nadhim Zahawi was keen to stress.

“Sharpen your focus on diversity and inclusion,” he advised. There’s a moral obligation and a business case for doing so, he said – something that was backed up by Channel 4 CEO Alex Mahon during a panel session.

“We had a huge push about black and Asian representation on screen last year,” she reported. “Lo and behold our audiences are up, our BAME audience in the UK is up by 3%.

“If you represent the UK properly, those audiences are interested so there is commercial benefit. I think it’s important to remember that when you do this responsibly, when you do it authentically, when you represent society as it sees itself, there are positive commercial gains that come [out of that].”

Diageo CMO Syl Saller added that agencies need to make changes in their creative teams where there are few too few women – one reason the drinks giant has partnered with diversity champions Creative Equals to sponsor its Creative Comeback programme for women who’ve taken a career break for whatever reason.

Advertising’s social contribution

New research from Credos, the AA’s think tank, highlighted how both consumers and industry practitioners believe that advertising can have a positive impact on society.

Almost all (97%) of the latter group feel it’s important that advertising contributes to society (and their own job satisfaction), although they also feel the industry isn’t doing nearly enough in this regard.

For consumers:

• 45% cited raising awareness/money for good causes

• 31% cited encouraging people to seek help or make changes in their lives

• 31% cited bringing people together around cultural events

• 30% cited promoting products/services that are good for society/the planet

• 25% cited promoting a more harmonious society/representing society in a positive way

Consumers are aware that messages are coming from distinct actors, of which brands are one, alongside government and NGOs. “People told us that for-profit brands have a quite special role to play for them,” explained Credos leader Karen Fraser, “because they wouldn’t necessarily have assumed that behavioural change or sharing ideas would have been something that a brand would have done in the past.

“But that means that brands can make more of an impression because its slightly unexpected, and consumers will welcome it as a result.” More than half agreed they would think more highly of such a brand, very few disagreed.

With a mandate from consumers and widespread practitioner enthusiasm, the industry has a real opportunity to rebuild trust, she said. 

Sourced from WARC