The House of Lords has concluded its inquiry into the future of the UK’s advertising industry, outlining a series of recommendations on how it thinks both the government and major players should approach challenges arising from Brexit, advertisers’ use of personal data, the duopoly’s dominance and more.
The inquiry drew on evidence presented by everyone from Facebook to Google, WPP to Channel 4, the Advertising Association (AA) to the Internet Advertising Bureaux (IAB).
Its aim was to examine the future of a sector in flux and investigate how both government policies and industry practices could be adapted to help maintain ad land’s pre-eminent position in the UK and internationally.
As such, the Lords have set out several recommendations across three areas: digital advertising, access to international talent and workforce.
The Drum has combed through the 66-page report, to present the top line suggestions below.
The duopoly’s dominance need to come under greater scrutiny
Whether it’s the Cambridge Analytica scandal or a furore over brand safety, not a day goes by without the duopoly (Google and Facebook) appearing in the national or trade press, so this point isn’t surprising, but a number of recommendations set out in the report make specific reference to digital advertising’s two behemoths.
First up, the House of Lords wants the government’s primary competition and consumer arm – the Competition and Market Authority) to investigate whether the current market is working fairly for consumers and competitors, and review whether current competition law is fit for a 21st century digital industry.
While it noted that a lack of transparency in the ecosystem, and the subsequent struggle for advertisers to find value in digital media, was “in part caused by” a deluge of ad tech intermediaries the report cited Google as the only force that “had control at all levels of the market”.
It has also suggested that the UK government use the ongoing Digital Charter – which will be used to agree new norms and rules for the online world and put them into practice – to gather evidence on whether Google and Facebook’s dominance is suitable in an economy increasingly driven by personal data, rather than money.
Digital should better self-regulate
Among the House of Lords’ suggestions is that in a bid to tackle transparency issues like ad fraud and ad misplacement, it is “in the interests of the whole industry” to take greater steps to self-regulate.
As a solution, the Select Communications Committee (which is heading up the inquiry) has suggested that the industry’s biggest players should fully commit to signing up to cross-industry group the Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards (JICWEBS).
It should also give trade bodies more teeth
The recommendation also states that the industry should then give trade bodies like JICWEBS, more powers to create and enforce rules establishing more robust standards around things like third-party verification and measurement.
If the industry fails to do so, the House of Lords has recommended that the UK government then propose its own legislation to regulate the digital supply chain.
When it comes to Brexit, the government should develop an immigration policy that lets businesses hold on to talent
International workers are an essential part of the UK ad industry, with the report asserting that talent flows into the country from all over the world.
London in particular, is also a landing pad for international clients – with more than 75% of the UK ad industry servicing companies beyond British borders.
The report invites the government to seek reciprocal arrangements for UK citizens wishing to work in partner countries when it is negotiating free trade terms in the run up to Brexit.
It also wants the government to develop a visa system that is easier and cheaper to navigate for businesses and individuals. Part of this, it claims, would mean allowing foreign nationals to work in the UK following an offer of permanent employment by an advertising employer.
That includes retaining, and recruiting, more young talent
In order to keep young talent flowing into the industry pipeline, the House of Lords is also keen for the government to extend Tier 4 UK visas, which grant the ability to study in the UK for at least two years after graduation.
And freelancers shouldn’t be exempt from this policy
The report states that the government should introduce a creative industries’ freelancer visa on the basis of reciprocal agreements with nations around the world.
Post-Brexit, the ICO should still get to yield influence over EU GDPR laws
Marketers are long aware that not even Brexit will save them from the forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation.
However, the House of Lords has proposed that even after the UK exits the EU the UK Information Commissioners Office (ICO) should still have a seat on the European Data Protection Board, which was established to represent the head of each data authority from every member state.
This, the report argued, will allow the UK to retain its influence in setting the very EU data protection rules it will still be aligned with.
Away from Brexit and back to digital, influencer posts should carry a universal logo
Discussion around the creation of a universal symbol to signpost paid-for editorial and social content has been going on for years. This report recommends that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) – which is currently looking into this very issue – should create a mandatory logo to make it clear when digital content has been sponsored by a brand.