Advertising Week Europe - The Big Six Ideas

Tom Pepper, Head of LinkedIn Marketing Solutions UK discusses the key themes and ideas that came out of Advertising Week Europe 2018. 

Tom Pepper

How was it for you? Advertising Week Europe, as always, felt like a whirlwind of ideas. Some of those ideas were thrown around onstage, others came out in the intense discussions that took place in between sessions. A lot of them could be found bouncing around the LinkedIn Oasis that we set up on the second floor of PictureHouse Central, which incorporated a pop-up studio for recording episodes of our Sophisticated Marketer's Podcast. Who knew that free cocktails and ice cream would be so effective at drawing a crowd of marketing's finest? 

Having had a weekend to let all of that thinking settle, I wanted to pull together a quick round-up of the ideas that stood out most for me. They're big. They're important. And they each have significant implications for marketers over the rest of 2018 and beyond.

Here's my take on the six most important themes from Advertising Week Europe:

Diversity - could a more holistic approach accelerate change?

I'd like to think that last week represented a tipping point for marketing and advertising when it comes to diversity. Or course, I could be wrong. Diversity has been featured prominently on the agenda of events like this before and, as MediaCom's Chief Transformation Officer Sue Unerman pointed out on the Sophisticated Marketer's podcast, we're still woefully off the pace when it comes to actually making it happen. However, there were some grounds for optimism. When Sir Martin Sorrell and Nina dos Santos of CNN held their flagship discussion on trends in advertising, the industry's lagging performance on diversity and its implications for commercial success were right at the top of the agenda. It was an interview that showed how diversity increasingly leads any business conversation - not just those specifically about diversity. This isn't an issue that can be sidelined to specialist sessions any more.

I also heard more speakers talking about the importance of building a genuine culture of inclusion rather than just hitting representation targets when it comes to recruitment. This was a key theme for June Sarpong's conversation with Oath digital prophet David Shing, and also of a very well-attended session on Neurodiversity. June Sarpong talked about the need for a more holistic approach, rooting out all forms of unconscious bias and aiming to make progress on all diversity issues simultaneously. That's a philosophy we've been applying during our own unconscious bias sessions at LinkedIn.

Mobile - it's time to think properly about context

Reaching audiences online increasingly means reaching them on mobile. However, not all mobile environments are equal when it comes to how willing people are to engage with brands. In a discussion on brand context, Jon Wilkins of Karmarama referenced research that showed how ads that proved popular on TV, magazine pages or posters were viewed far less positively by audiences when they were mocked up to appear on their phones. Why? Because for many people, phones are an intimate environment where advertising immediately feels more intrusive.

As marketers, we have to respect the mobile environment, not just reach people in it because they happen to be there. That means ensuring content and advertising appears when and where it's welcome, and paying close attention to the value exchange. The LinkedIn feed is one of those environments where people expect to encounter messages from brands, whether they're engaging on a phone or on a desktop. But they also expect those messages to add genuine value.

Trust - there's no room for complacency

Trust was a huge issue at Advertising Week Europe - whether it was the ongoing issues around brand safety or the need for platforms to demonstrate trustworthiness in how they use people's data. We were treated to a lot of sessions exploring brands' responsibilities under GDPR and the approaching ePrivacy regulation. 

For me, the Global Crisis of Trust panel was the most insightful session on this topic though, highlighting how important the issue of trust is for both businesses and the Government alike. And with the latest findings from Edelman's 2018 Trust Barometer suggesting that people are becoming increasingly tribal and entrenched in their views, it is clear that marketers have a crucial role to play in their organisations to build up trust again.

Video - time to define your signature style

No one platform can own the definition of video. The reason it's such an exciting format is that it's so versatile. Video can incorporate anything from a few seconds of animation to an emotive three-minute film, a breathtaking sequence of a moment or two, or an hour-long vlog. On our Beyond the Talking Head panel, speakers like Vicky Chen of Vice and Coco Masters of Nissan talked about the range of creative approaches that video supports. Alex Cheeseman of Contented recommended that marketers sack any agency that dictates video content has to be a certain length to succeed. And Matt Wilson of Ball Street talked through how an opportunistic approach has helped to make him a star of native video in the LinkedIn feed.

The fact that video supports so many different formats and creative approaches makes it arguably even more important to define your own signature visual style. That was the clear message that came from legendary movie directors like Edgar Wright and Alan Parker. As the moving image becomes more fundamental to marketing, it makes sense to embrace your inner director, and differentiate not just what you film - but how you film it. Be original, and you'll be rewarded with far greater recognition and awareness.

Voice - why wait to start mapping out your brand dimensions?

There's no need to restrict your branding to visual style, either. Alex Cheeseman planted a fascinating idea when he talked about how brands should start using video to associate recognisable audio identifiers with their brand - and prepare for a world of voice search. Brands such as Intel have done this superbly, but few others have followed their lead up to now. David Shing took this idea a step further and encouraged marketers to explore other dimensions of their brand as well: What's it like to touch? Is there a distinct gesture associated with it? Planning for a screenless world doesn't have to be science fiction; there are definite, practical actions that marketers could be taking today.

Purpose - the proof that it matters

Sue Unerman admits that she hasn't always believed in the commercial value of brand purpose. She's not alone in that. Plenty of marketing pundits still question whether a sense of purpose can make a meaningful contribution to the bottom line. However, unlike some others, Sue is open to the evidence. 

In the episode of The Sophisticated Marketer's Podcast that she recorded live last week, she explained how two members of her team asked for the chance to convince her - and undertook a research report into how a sense of brand purpose shapes buying habits. They found that one out of every three people has chosen to buy something because of what the company they are buying from does for the environment. Two out of three had chosen not to buy something because they disapproved of the way that a company acted. And Sue is adamant that this isn't just an issue for consumers. With a generation of professionals increasingly passionate about working somewhere with meaning, every buying decision that a business makes is increasingly viewed through a purposeful lens.

Like so many of my key themes from Advertising Week Europe (diversity, trust, appropriate use of mobile), building a purposeful brand really comes down to human decency - and common sense. More than anything last week, I was reminded that marketers have all of the instincts that we really need to navigate a disruptive media landscape in a way that makes sense to our audiences and brings them closer to our brand. We sometimes just need the confidence to trust those instincts.

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