Green jacket bloke - a good choice as adland's spokesman

31 Jul 2018  |  Dominic Mills 
Green jacket bloke - a good choice as adland's spokesman

Unilever's Keith Weed recognises that advertising impacts society in many ways and so must act responsibly, writes Dominic Mills. He's a wise choice as president of the Advertising Association. Plus: Wall Street moves into media trading...

I have no idea what it is with green jackets and Keith Weed, CMO of Unilever. Variously described as lime green, chartreuse, moss and olive, he seems to don a different shade of jacket for different occasions. You can imagine him preparing: a touch of Dove moisturiser, a quick spray of Lynx Africa, and a rifle through the wardrobe to select, say, an item in shamrock green.

I suspect someone told him that in order to get ahead and make his mark on the world he needed to adopt some personal branding. But you’d think, as the CMO of the world’s second-largest branded goods company, he could have afforded to take advice from someone who wasn’t colour blind.

But no matter. I think his many achievements and initiatives at Unilever constitute personal branding enough. No need for the green props, Keith.

As of last week Weed is president-elect of the Advertising Association, the body that sits above the IPA, ISBA and the various media-owner representative bodies.

Its job, in effect, is to represent the entire ad industry outwards - to consumers, governments and pressure groups - and to promote the benefits it brings and, where necessary, to defend it. This is always a big job, but never more so than now as the pressures come from all angles.

The job therefore requires someone who stands for the best, someone who is progressive, and someone who recognises the issues and is prepared to stick their neck out on them.

Weed is just such an individual, with the added bonus that, looked at as a whole, Unilever’s creative work - the visible manifestation of advertising as far as outsiders are concerned - is produced to a high standard. After all, you don’t want the ad industry represented by someone who signs off on work that is crap.

And, if you put the work to one side, Weed (and Unilever) have shown an appetite for tackling the big issues. They include environmentalism and sustainability, both long-standing corporate commitments; diversity and sexual stereotyping; a recognition that, through their media budgets, advertisers can deny funds to those who promote hate speech and dissent; and tackling fakery, most notably through influencers.

Cynics may say Weed demonstrates an eye for a good headline, but I prefer to see his initiatives through a different prism: a recognition that advertising touches society in all kinds of ways, and that it needs to face up to its wider responsibilities. Where better then to promote this approach than via the Advertising Association?

That is because the AA itself is no slouch when it comes to putting forward a better face, whether that’s making the case for the economic benefits of advertising, helping regional SMEs get started, tackling BAME representation in ads or intra-industry sexism.

If there is a challenge Weed may face it is that he is more progressive than some of the constituent parts of the industry. The recidivists - and there are plenty still out there even in an industry that purports to embrace the future - may drag their feet and slow the industry down.

But that is a minor quibble. Overall, you’d say right person, right time, right job.

Wall Street makes a move into media trading

My thanks go to Maarten Albarda for his MediaPost column this week drawing my attention to the New York Interactive Advertising Exchange (NYIAX).

NYIAX is new to me and, I suspect, to all but the real geeks. Backed by NASDAQ it promises to bring (its words) ‘a transparent, trusted marketplace’ to the business of media, allowing ‘advertisers and publishers a platform to buy, sell, and re-trade premium advertising contracts in a forward/futures methodology’. Naturally, it has all the blockchain stuff too.

In other words, this is Wall Street making a play in the media market. Ah, you say, what’s the big deal? Ad exchanges have been around for years. Well, no. The difference is that NYIAX is positioning itself as a futures market, a bit like those that deal in commodities like orange juice, wheat, gold and pork bellies.

But how should the industry react? Is it with horror - after all, the business is plenty complicated and murky without Wall Street and a host of potentially hostile entities sticking their noses in - ?

Or should it welcome NYIAX as a body that could (only could, mind you) bring discipline, structures and price transparency to trading online inventory, as well as a mechanism to safeguard publishing’s future?

I’m not sure. The principle of commodities markets is a good one. They help protect farmers and producers by allowing them to forward-sell output; and they help consumers by easing out dramatic price fluctuations caused by events like gluts or dramatic shortages.

While the benefits of futures markets are clear, so are the downsides. They are the perfect place for speculators to make hay and/or create havoc. Back in the 80s a trio of crazed Texan billionaire brothers (is there any other kind?) tried to corner the silver market by buying it in its entirety. They failed, but it was a close-run thing.

Silver of course is in finite or limited supply, which is something that certainly could not be said of digital inventory. But it is certainly possible, as Albarda points out, that speculators could buy up certain types of inventory and then control its price. That would not necessarily benefit either publishers or advertisers.

It was probably only a matter of time before Wall Street, which has a nose for opportunity and disfunctionality, fixed its eyes on digital media inventory. If it gets a toe-hold, it may bring a whole new meaning to the transparency debate.

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