The Rise of Purpose, Empathy and Brands that Matter

IAB Engage 2018

IAB Engage is over for another year. This was our 14th annual event, our seventh at the Barbican and my second as CMO. However, this year there was something that felt a bit different.

Where previously there would have been ample time spent by presenters on the latest media firsts; impressive uses of creative, data and technology to tell a brand story in a new and exciting way, there was less of that this year.

Instead, the themes that kept appearing throughout the day were ideas of trust, purpose, empathy and doing things that matter.

Everyone from Keith Weed, Polly Curtis, Lucy Jameson, Tom Goodwin to Stacey Dooley all referenced the need for more understanding, both of the consumers we wish to serve and also of the impact our work has on the world around us. Or, as Stacey stated towards the end of our conversation, “being mindful of the consequences of what we’ve made.”

“You can raise the bar or you can wait for others to raise it, but it’s getting raised regardless”

The above quote, from renowned Marketing teacher, Seth Godin seemed particularly appropriate for Engage 2018 and was reflected by Keith Weed and his work at Unilever. During his fireside chat with IAB UK Chairman, Richard Eyre CBE, he touched on how the consumer has a lack of trust in many of the ads the industry is creating.

Additionally, how some of the shorthand signals we use – housewives in soap commercials – impact society; how people feel about the world and each other.

As a result, Unilever has developed three guiding principles:

  • Only invest in responsible platforms

  • Only invest in responsible content

  • Only invest in responsible infrastructure

This has resulted in the formation of the Unstereotype Alliance, an initiative that will unite leaders across business, technology, creative - and even competitive FMCG brands - to tackle the prevalence of stereotypes that are often perpetuated through advertising.

Keith quoted a stat that he first used when launching the Alliance in Cannes last year, highlighting that this is no longer just a social imperative but a business one, with their research finding that progressive ads are 25% more effective and deliver better branded impact.

During Tom Goodwin’s fascinating presentation, he returned often to the theme of empathy. Of having more empathy for people and their changing needs, their changing expectations and working around these ideals, rather than focus on the latest technology.

Goodwin challenged the audience to move towards what he referred to as the ‘Post Digital Age’. “A time where we look at the tool kit that technology allows us, we look at the behaviours and expectations of audiences and we make things from scratch. We make brand new experiences, brand new advertising forms that have never been known before, and where we envelope people in advertising experiences that help people.

Tom also returned to a theme that Clare Enders had touched on earlier in the day. The fact that there has never been a better time to work in our industry. His succinct summary probably summed up the feeling of many in the audience, “The internet is probably the best thing that has ever happened to all of us. So, if we think much more proactively, more profoundly and more excitedly about it, it’s probably the best time ever to work in this industry.

To me, this is what Engage is all about. It’s about celebrating our achievements, about inspiring us all with vision and excellence, and for challenging us when we could do more.

With this agenda, moving Engage to the middle of the year makes total sense. Our Leadership Summit is our first marque event of the year and is an opportunity, under Chatham House Rule, to discuss and explore the problems and challenges the industry faces.

At Engage we celebrate, challenge and inspire.

And then, at our inaugural Nonference at the end of the year, we will take a new approach to learning. We will be rolling up our sleeves and becoming hands-on at addressing the complexities of digital.

The themes I felt emerge from Engage this year really grew from some of the comments Jon, our CEO, made to open the conference. He celebrated the 28 member companies who have already been certified under the IAB Gold Standard. He inspired – or at least, we hope he did – when he announced our Carbon Neutral status. And he challenged us all with the announcement of our MIND partnership and Diversity Advisory Group.

These are all areas where we need your support. But we know when we come together, we can make a difference. Digital is no longer a nascent industry. As Goodwin suggested, it is like electricity: everywhere. We therefore have a duty and a desire to acknowledge and accept this maturity and act accordingly. It’s time we all invested more in things that matter.

The mission of the IAB is simply to build a sustainable future for digital advertising.

The theme of Engage was Moving Forward.

These ideas neatly dovetail with this growing desire for empathy and creating work and brands that matter. To me, a sustainable future is about two broad objectives:

  1. To focus on the right issues – the challenges, such as making digital advertising better and GDPR, where industry needs our support
  2. To doing the right things – the opportunities, such as inclusion and diversity, where we need to show leadership

By focusing on this agenda, supported by our three distinct marque events throughout the year, we believe we are well equipped to help those brands who wish to move forward with purpose. As Lucy Jameson stated at the end of her compelling presentation, “How do we go from being a brand that sells stuff to people, to being brands that people wish existed? Every brand can matter – but only if you really want it to.”

We look forward to working with our members and the wider industry to ensure digital remains the industry and environment for making these things possible.

By James Chandler

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