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From subservient chickens to driverless cars, Guy Phillipson reflects on 10 years at the IAB

Guy Phillipson is chief executive of the Internet Advertising Bureau UK (IAB). His monthly blog examines the latest developments in the online ad space.

Over the past week I’ve been getting a steady stream of ‘congratulations on your 10-year work anniversary’ from very kind friends on LinkedIn, with many of them adding sentiments like ‘and look how far we’ve come!’ It has been (and continues to be) a fascinating journey, and inevitably this milestone has got me reminiscing about my first few months at the Internet Advertising Bureau UK.

Not Guy Phillipson, but early internet advertising star the BK chicken

I’ll never forget my first day, on 10 January 2005. Our PR agent had agreed time slots for all the major trade magazines to interview and photograph the ex-Vodafone man taking over at the IAB UK. I had no idea it was such a big deal, but it was front page news: “Phillipson has a dream for the Internet" and (my favourite) “ONLINE CZAR. Can Phillipson do for the internet what McArthur did for radio?” Douglas McArthur had been CEO of the Radio Advertising Bureau for 12 years, and he undoubtedly developed the best in class model for a media trade body, successfully growing share in the process.

So, after a build up like that, I had to develop a cunning plan. The central plank of my pitch to chairman Richard Eyre and the commercial bosses of the big portals was that marketing directors didn’t understand the medium, and we needed to turn the IAB UK into a friendly, accessible and free resource for marketers.

Like many incoming CEOs, I embarked on a 100-day review – to deliver the cunning plan – and along the way interviewed 25 marketing directors from a wide range of sectors, using a consistent discussion guide. In true marketer fashion I was then able to segment my audience into three categories: Sceptics, Intermediates and Experts.

At that time, without exception, all the FMCG brands fell into the sceptics category. I recorded verbatims like “I see no valid role for the internet on our plan” and “as long as the TV campaign works, the MD’s happy!”. At the other end of the scale, finance and telecoms companies were a lot more encouraging. “The internet is a marketing channel, and a channel to market,” was a canny quote, recognising you could advertise and sell stuff direct online.

And so, armed with a stack of buy-side insight, my 100-day review centered around a five point plan:

  1. Consumer behaviour – nobody knew what their customers did online
  2. Search – a low-risk gateway to doing more digital
  3. E-commerce – was catching on and would drive more advertising
  4. Rich media – Broadband was growing, so surely brand ads should follow
  5. Audience measurement – A planning currency for the internet

With hindsight, an audience measurement currency was in the 'too difficult' box at the time. But UK Online Measurement (UKOM) came along in 2010 – and is still chaired by my good friend Douglas McArthur.

But we were fast out of the blocks on everything else with our first e-commerce conference, ‘Christmas in July’ at Millbank. And to demonstrate online branding, we created the Rich Media Road Show on a CD-ROM to take to advertisers and agencies, including the legendary Burger King www.subservientchicken.com campaign. In my first year I reckon I made over 150 speeches and presentations, armed with PwC data which indicated that online revenues could exceed £1bn by the end of 2005. In fact they hit £1.3bn.

I wouldn’t have believed you…

2005 was a very important year for the online market. Social media had arrived with MySpace, Bebo and a new thing called Facebook; you could ‘broadcast yourself’ on YouTube; and IAB Engage took place on 18 October, where Bill Gates famously predicted ‘The future of advertising is the internet’. How right he was. But 10 years ago, I would have had trouble believing these three predictions…

  1. By 2015, more than half of all online display will be traded in real time, programmed through trading desks (What!?!)
  2. By 2015, mobile advertising will account for over £2bn in media revenue (when was the year of mobile again?)
  3. By 2015, total digital advertising will surpass 40 per cent share of UK media spend (sheer fantasy!)

But it will all come true. 10 years ago, 20 per cent share was a very bold aspiration, and 30 per cent was fairyland. To think that digital will soon tip 50 per cent and become the majority is wonderful – it’s a milestone we can keep working on over the next few years.

In 10 years’ time….

Who knows what delights we have to come in 2025? I will be eligible for my TfL Freedom Pass. But of course I won’t need a physical pass; the driverless bus will just know me when I step on. 500mb Wi-Fi everywhere will be a basic human right. And this blog will be presented to you in person as a virtual 3D hologram – just like Princess Leia in Star Wars.

What I can say is it’s been a huge privilege to lead the IAB UK during the most exciting period in the history of technology and media. And along the way I’ve worked with inspiring IAB UK members and a brilliant team to create the right environment for digital advertising to thrive.

Long may it continue and here’s to the next 10 years.

Guy Phillipson is the UK chief executive of IAB. You can follow him on Twitter @GuyPhillipson

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