The IAB UK's CEO Jon Mew kicked off proceedings at our flagship Engage conference today by emphasising the fact that, while it may be hard to keep up with the pace of change in digital advertising, it's important to try.
"Focusing on the problem is not the solution," he said, pointing to the IAB's Gold Standard, by way of example. This aims to address challenges such as brand safety and ad fraud and focus on delivering a positive user experience - with 88 companies now having registered, and 27 already certified. "These are companies that are committed to the long-term future of the industry," he told the 1000-strong crowd gathered. "Prioritise working with them."
Other announcements from Mew included the IAB's partnership with mental health charity Mind; the IAB's new inclusion and diversity advisory group, led by the board, and the fact that, as of today, it is a carbon neutral neutral organisation.
Unilever CMCO Keith Weed was up next, in conversation with the IAB UK's chairman, Richard Eyre CBE.
Weed spoke of a 'step change' in the industry, stressing that self-regulation is key in such a fast-moving world. What's more, in an era of 'mass personalisation' and in a 'cluttered' digital world, finding truly engaging ways of building brands is absolutely critical, he said. Brand purpose comes into play here, he continued, explaining: "It's about building brands with real meaning that we all want to spend time with."
Weed claimed that there has never been such an exciting time to be in marketing, but he warned that, too often, marketers are optimising for channel rather than brand.
He also told the audience that Unilever's 'more progressive' ads have been found to be 25% more effective: "How can we create advertising which is more reflective of society today?," he asked delegates. "If we can pull that off then I think the whole industry can be really proud."
Next, Claire Enders, founder of Enders Analysis, painted an encouraging picture of the strength of the UK's digital advertising industry and the creativity and innovation within it. Describing the UK as the 'premier digital economy', she said that online advertising is a 'great' career option.
The UK is 'the bedrock of innovation in the global advertising industry', she continued, pointing also to the increasing power of Amazon which she described as the 'third force' behind Facebook and Google. Enders also claimed that TV spots will be the most resilient part of offline ad spend, thanks to 'a high quality TV culture which is constantly renewing demand'. And she said that the IAB's Gold standard is a very important part of the digital ad industry's maturity process. "Major media don't survive unless they protect consumers," she warned.
Billy Corbyn, head and creative director of Unskippable Labs at Google, and Olivia McMonagle, digital lead at Twentieth Century Fox then co-hosted a session in which they stressed the importance of both creative quality and testing. McMonagle admitted to having 'played things a bit safe' to date.
Next, Polly Curtis, HuffPost UK's Editor-in-Chief emphasised the importance of trust in the era of Trump and Brexit.
"Traffic-chasing has unintended consequences and news brands have to be true to their mission," she said.
And Steve Bartlett, founder and CEO, Social Chain made a passionate case for the effective use of influence in 2018 and beyond. Having built his agency from scratch, he said that it is important to think in terms of being a publisher rather than a marketer. In order to win, you have to engage, he said.
Simon Gosling, Futurist at Unruly then provided a fascinating glimpse into the connected homes of the future.
"I have never seem as much change as I have today," he said, identifying four key trends: voice, lens, AI and AR.
"Once upon a time the brand was in control but now we have moved away from passive observation to active immersion," he added, predicting that we will soon be using AI to distinguish fake news from real news, and pointing to other trends such as the rise of visual search, and major brands such as Ikea and Audi successfully using AR.
Facebook's Vanessa Fitzgerald was up next. She urged a 'challenger spirit' and, in conversation with Eve Williams, ASOS' brand experience director and Robert May, chief commercial officer at Wonderbly, Fitzgerald said that challenger brands pick an industry which is 'dormant' before 'putting the customer at the core of everything they do'. "They have a mindset of testing, learning, sometimes failing, and continuing to push on," she said.
ASOS' Williams told the audience that the fashion brand has focused on bravery as a key value. "Disruption is not just about technology. It's a mindset and a way of thinking differently," she said.
Just before lunch, Lucy Jameson, founder of Uncommon London, told delegates that, "Where there is trouble, there is a usually a problem to solve," adding: "That's an opportunity … and, frankly, our industry is in a bit of trouble right now".
"There's one simple question I'd ask you to think about," she added. "Which are you more scared of? Change; or what you'll become if you don't change?"