What should a good trade organisation be doing?

Brexit uncertainty notwithstanding, UK digital ad spending grew by more than £7bn during the first half of 2019, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB UK), with video alone contributing well over £1bn during the first six months of the year.

This shows a strong confidence in the sector and continues a pattern that began in the years from 2007 to 2016, when spending on digital advertising rose from £2.81bn to £9.2bn.

Yet at the same time, public faith in advertising has arguably never been lower, with advertisers regularly accused of not representing society fully, or of ‘tokenism’ when they do.

Only a year ago,  the Advertising Association’s think tank, Credos, found that while appreciating advertising’s benefits, Britons are increasingly frustrated with ads’ ‘intrusiveness’ and ‘bombardment’.  Indeed, as recently as December 2018, public favourability towards the industry had plunged to a record low of 25%, a drop of nearly half (48%) since 1992.

Among the main concerns Credos found were the sheer volume of ads, their repetition, irrelevance and obtrusiveness.

At the time, Advertising Association president Keith Weed insisted that the industry should respond collectively to these concerns, while Direct Line Group marketing director Mark Evans stressed: “A falling tide sinks all boats”.

In fact, the UK was the first nation to try and rein in online advertising, saying it illegally shared personal data in order to target adverts. The data regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), gave the industry until the end of 2019 to ‘get its house in order’, warning that it would fine individual companies that were still in breach of the law.

But by late August last year, the ICO was still not happy, claiming that with just a few months to go, nothing had been resolved. Concerns included online advertisers’ use of sensitive personal data (such as health or political views data) to target ads. The warnings continued in January 2020.

And the ICO is also baring its teeth with, for example, the release of an age-appropriate design code aimed at protecting the privacy of children online.

So, perhaps more than ever, it’s vital that the industry finds its voice, and that those operating in this fast-paced, constantly changing industry feel they have adequate representation.

Here, we give an overview of some of the sector’s key trade organisations, and their aims.

  • The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA)

With a history stretching back more than a century to 1917, the organisation (which is incorporated by Royal Charter) describes itself as ‘the power behind the practitioners’. It acts as a voice for UK advertising agencies and showcases their work while helping to develop skills and increase diversity across the industry. It sets protocols for best-practice standards and offers advice on choosing an agency as well as running or working for one.

  • ISBA

Working to represent leading British advertisers, ISBA was established in 1900. It champions marketers’ needs through advocacy and networking, and aims to speak with one voice to stakeholders such as agencies and regulators, as well as to government.

Its conference in late February 2020 in London, Advertising 3.0, will ‘explore the need for a rethink’ across the sector.

  • Internet Advertising Bureau

Launched much more recently than the above two organisations, in 1997, this is a not-for-profit body for digital advertising with some 1,200 members. Its activities encompass events, training and research among other things.

  • The Advertising Association

The organisation says it promotes the rights, roles and responsibilities of advertising in the UK, representing advertisers, brands and agencies on the industry’s behalf.  It also describes itself as the link between industry professional, politicians and policy-makers.

Are their aims being met?

Looking at the websites, you can see that most of the advertising trade associations have pretty ambitious goals and aims. Broadly, these organisations are working hard to achieve them, and there are some examples of sterling efforts.

The IPA, for example, joined forces with Unilever late last year to launch an initiative which championed role models working to make the industry more inclusive.

And it recently expressed its strong disappointment with Facebook’s decision not to ban the micro-targeting of political messages on its website.

Meanwhile, in early 2020, the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) revealed its strategy for creating a more responsible, sustainable digital environment that protected the industry, consumers and wider society.

However, at a time of great change for all of us, perhaps trade organisations could and should be working more closely together to give the sector a strong, unified voice. Initiatives such as the one launched in November 2018 (by IPSA and the IPAO) championing sustainable client/media agency relationships are still the exception rather than the norm.  In the challenging months and years ahead, more joint campaigning is likely to be highly desirable.

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