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By Stephen Woodford, Chief Executive, Advertising Association
We launched our new mission at the beginning of the year, with a pledge to ‘promote the role and rights of responsible advertising and its value to people, society, businesses and the economy’. Little did we realise, at that time, how much our industry and our society would be impacted by a pandemic that most of us had only just heard about in what seemed to be a distant Wuhan province. While COVID-19 has clearly impacted our members and our activities, it has not diverted us from this strategy of an ever-greater focus on what responsible advertising means.
The efforts of industry to share public health messaging and support Government communications around the pandemic was a key feature of 2020, but three main activities have dominated our efforts to help members and the wider industry mitigate the impact of COVID-19. We built on our existing engagement with Government to maintain a clear and consistent line of communication and advice to Ministers and civil servants, co-ordinating many and frequent industry meetings with Government in Westminster and Holyrood. We developed a series of industry proposals to help our industry and the country recover from the pandemic. Chief amongst these are for a tax credit incentivise greater advertising investment from companies to fuel a faster recovery, and our skills proposal to help people upskill and retrain to meet the needs of the future economy. Through initiatives like these we believe our industry can contribute to the strongest recovery when it comes in 2021.
Despite its magnitude, the pandemic was only part of the story of 2020. We also saw a great deal of activity on HFSS food and drink advertising, with the publication of the Government’s proposals for a 9pm watershed and full ban on HFSS advertising online. The AA worked very closely with ISBA, IPA and IAB and other members, along with the food & drink manufacturing and hospitality industries, to achieve a coordinated reaction and opposition to this plan, based on the poor evidence for any meaningful impact that such approaches would achieve, versus their disproportionate cost and harm to the media and business ecosystems.
We took a great step forward on positive action on climate change with the launch of Ad Net Zero – our new plan to reduce our industry’s carbon footprint to real net zero by end 2030, while harnessing the power of advertising to influence positive consumer behaviour change. There was also valuable progress in making our industry inclusive to all through the work of our Inclusion Working Group, chaired by Pearl & Dean’s Kathryn Jacob. The launch in April of the ‘UK Advertising Needs You’ hub on our website is a growing showcase of all initiatives that recruit, support and advance diverse talent in advertising.
Our UK Advertising Export Group (UKAEG) launched formally in March 2020 and went from strength-to-strength in promoting UK advertising services to overseas clients, despite the complete disruption to the original activity planned. Moving immediately to a digital format, the group delivered Export Month in March, created new events and took part in online festivals for audiences in China, created a special international Summer Showcase and launched UKAEG’s first brand campaign, ‘UK Advertising. Made Global’ in September. Most recently, it has been setting out ambitious plans for 2021, when post-Brexit the message that the UK is the world’s leading global hub for advertising will be more important than ever.
Any success we have managed to achieve in 2020 was down to the hard work of the AA team and the brilliant support and engagement of our members. It might be a cliché to say we wouldn’t be here without you, but our members are the AA and the trials and tribulations of the past year have demonstrated both what we can achieve together under the toughest of circumstances and how our industry sits at the heart of the UK’s economic and social wellbeing.
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