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Being on the front foot means making the best of any situation and capitalising on the opportunities it presents. As such, our members network for UK advertising, Front Foot, turned its April event into a virtual experience for our industry’s leaders to gather and discuss what Covid-19 means for us all.
Front Foot Chair and Direct Line MD of Marketing and Digital, Mark Evans, got proceedings underway, reflecting on how the last few weeks have upended plans for people and families across the country.
Advertising Association President and former CMCO of Unilever, Keith Weed, then joined the event and, in speaking briefly at the start, coined the term ‘Darwinian Gales’ to describe the current storms hitting our economy. Mark began his Q&A by asking Keith whether the present crisis has similarities to any other he has seen in his career. Keith explained he had experienced several political and economic crises, ranging from famines and floods to the economies of whole continents collapsing like a row of dominoes, but that Covid-19 is like no other he has seen.
‘It’s not just locked down people, but locked down opportunities and possibilities’, Keith said before going on to say that while instinct might tell advertisers to hunker down, ‘now is not the time for hibernation, but for preparation’.
He also stressed how we must look after one another right now in UK advertising – that leaders should ask each other for help if they need it and that it’s OK to say no one has all the answers right now. Keith also reminded us to remain optimistic at this time and keep a positive outlook: ‘we should, whenever possible, be more Tigger and less Eeyore’. That’s a view that noone here at the AA will pooh-pooh!
Keith advised that while brands shouldn’t advertise for advertising’s sake, dialling down on ad spend is risky. Chief Financial Officers may seek to make cuts where they can, but experience shows that advertising during a downturn pays off in the long run. At Unilever, Keith said the company increased its marketing investment during the last downturn and, as a result, grew ahead of its competitors.
Mark went on to ask Keith about good and bad examples of advertising he had seen during this crisis. Keith highlighted campaigns by Lifebuoy Soap encouraging the world to wash their hands and Guinness encouraging people to stay home as two which had caught his eye – both were on brand and critically on message. Keith called out that a number of adverts were similar at the moment, using scenes of families at home during lockdown. He suggested we might play a game in years-to-come of Spot The Brand because they were all the same.
Keith’s comment that 15 years’ worth of change and penetration in the ecommerce market had occurred in just 15 days resonated – we are unlikely to return to how we were pre-lockdown as regards shopping habits. “Every brand will have to adjust to this change, otherwise they risk being left behind and missing the step-change in online buying.”
One thing that will remain constant, however, is the importance of advertising and its power to build brands. Keith believed it vital that industry should champion this role.
Our Chief Executive, Stephen Woodford, followed up the question and answer session with an exclusive member overview of the AA/WARC Expenditure Report figures for FY 2019 and projections for 2020/21.
The topline figures show that UK adspend rose 6.9% year-on-year to reach £25.36bn in 2019 – the tenth consecutive year of ad market growth. Despite a promising start in the first quarter of this year, the impact of COVID-19 means that projections have been substantially downgraded for the rest of 2020 and 2021. The projected figure for this year is for adspend of £21.13bn, meaning a year-on-year reduction of 16.7% – or £4.23bn – from 2019. Read more on this here [insert link].
For Front Foot to fulfil its role of leading our industry, it is vital we do not lose sight of other key issues for UK advertising and for our society.
Advertising Association Commercial Director, Sharon Lloyd Barnes, highlighted this when she updated members of plans for the association’s online inclusion hub – UK Advertising Needs You. This will showcase the importance of diversity and inclusion and act as a lightning rod for this key issue as make our industry more representative of the communities we serve.
Alongside this, Credos Deputy Director Heather Young led participants through plans for the forthcoming industry report on climate change and how they can get involved to combat the climate emergency threat this issue poses.
Our first virtual Front Foot Breakfast finished with a Q&A session for those on the call, with Credos Chair James Best commenting he hoped COVID-19 doesn’t mean sustainability drops down the agenda – the outbreak stands as an example of the size of the problem we could face in future on climate change. It is, in fact, the wake-up call of all wake-up calls.
With that, the session came to an end with a thanks from Mark to all Front Foot members for joining and, in a Corona-cultural reference that would have been lost on us all only a few short weeks ago, Simon Pitts, CEO of STV commented that the event was ‘definitely worth missing Joe Wicks for!’
How times change!
To find out more about becoming a Front Foot member and attending future events like this, please contact Sharon Lloyd Barnes at the Advertising Association.
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