LEAD18: Plea for new era of advertising responsibility
There's no doubt advertising has a PR problem: ad fraud, low public sentiment, brand safety, and a lack of transparent business deals are all damaging the industry and its reputation.
Indeed, in a survey conducted by IPSOS on behalf of Trinity Mirror last year, 42% of respondents claimed to distrust brands, while 69% distrust advertising more generally.
To remedy the problem, Nick Manning - the founder of Manning Gottlieb OMD and a director at Ebiquity for more than ten years until his departure last month - has outlined plans to take back control.
Speaking at the Advertising Association's annual leadership summit on Thursday, Manning said if advertisers behave responsibly and respectfully towards their customers, with the right help from their advisers, people and businesses "will respond in kind".
"Responsible marketing is the only kind that makes sense these days," he said to an audience of industry bosses at Kings Place, London.
"Advertisers should continuously question their activities and ask whether their actions are responsible towards the public and will not only benefit their own brand and business, but also not harm the body politic.
"This applies of course to messaging and how it is delivered, including the data used to identify people."
The problem of data misuse was a chief concern for Manning, who said advertisers risk "drowning" in it and so data management "should start with data sufficiency".
"Be responsible," Manning said. "The pursuit of excessive personalisation through data is one of the sources of the industry’s problems. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should."
Manning also warned that advertisers should be taking individual responsibilities to improve the sector's PR issues, and that trade bodies cannot be expected to control the behaviour of their members.
"The trade associations will never be able to agree on anything, and lots of time can be lost in the attempt. So while their role has never been more important, the actions of their members are even more so."
Manning also urged advertisers to be more discerning when choosing partners, and that, for the good of the entire market, more competing parties should collaborate. "It’s up to the protagonists in the eco-system to bury the hatchet and co-operate, in the interests of the common good," he said.
Manning made similar warnings about accountability and transparency - which he said should be a priority for every business operating within the complex advertising ecosystem, "from the start and to the end".
"We want Advertising to justify its place, we want boards to understand why £10 million in ad spend is a responsible use of shareholders’ money and provides a good return on capital employed. We need to speak the language of finance and risk, and support our arguments with strong analytics.
While praising ISBA, the trade body representing UK advertisers, for pushing for stronger media transparency, Manning said: "we can’t be a profession that accepts hidden margins made by often deliberately opaque, dishonest and deceitful means, and by trying to catch advertisers out with contractual booby-traps based on advertisers’ lack of knowledge."
P&G, the world's largest advertiser, is currently poring over every agency contract in an attempt to achieve "full transparency" by the end of 2017 - including terms requiring funds to be used for media payment only, all rebates to be disclosed and returned, and all transactions subject to audit.
That also means adopting basic viewability standards, ditching the adtech middle men, breaking down walled gardens, and getting serious about measurement.
In line with that commitment, in July last year P&G said - while cutting more than $100 million from its digital marketing spend - it had reduced overhead, agency fee and ad-production costs in the second quarter.
Since P&G's call-to-arms at the start of 2017, other global brands have made major changes, or are planning to make extensive changes, to their media governance practices across a wide range of areas, according to the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA).
In the last 12 months, 35 multi-national companies with a total annual marketing spend of more than $30bn globally said they have taken action on issues including transparency, brand safety, viewability and ad fraud.
Transparency remains a top priority for 47% of companies, while 51% say it is rising up the list. However, 14% said it is de-escalating, which the WFA says suggests some companies are seeing progress.
Speaking on Thursday, Manning said: "The intermediaries in question have to clean up the stables and get transparent in data and money. Now.
"It’s all about responsibility. Who is going to solve Advertising’s PR problems? Answer: advertisers, acting responsibly and supported by their associations, and not the other way around."
Commenting on Manning's speech, The Internet Advertising Bureau's chief marketing officer, James Chandler, admitted there were things that need fixing, however he said it was "the easy route" to stand on stage "circling around on how bad things are and who is to blame the most".
"As we see it, the harder route - and the reason trade bodies like the IAB exist - is to focus on bringing people together to address the issues and work together to create solutions," he told Newsline.
"Our IAB UK Gold Standard is the strongest example yet of something that brings together three programmes that tackle ad fraud, ad blocking and brand safety to provide a better experience for media owners, agencies, advertisers and most importantly, people.
"A big tenant of the Gold Standard draws on work done by the Coalition for Better Ads (CBA) - an international body that includes national IABs, media owners and agency groups - and is a prime example of the industry coming together to effectively tackle a problem."
Chandler added that, combined with the work the IAB is doing around consent under the GDPR and its renewed focus on measurement, its focus is "squarely on creating solutions that create a sustainable future for digital advertising."