Brighton Rock: This year’s Media360 gave delegates plenty of ideas and arguments. 

fink2Lord Finklestein OBE, columnist at The Times, opened his diagnosis of Brexit at the Media360 conference which I co-chaired this May, with an old Jewish joke.  A village matchmaker goes to a peasant family and says that she’s found a match for their son.  “What about the daughter of the Tsar?” she says.  “But there’s no way that the Tsar will agree that his daughter could marry a lowly peasant” the parents reply.  “But do you agree to the match?” asked the matchmaker.  “Of course” said the parents.  ‘Well then,” the matchmaker replied, “I’m half way there”.

Lord Finklestein was of the opinion that the deal for Brexit was no closer than the matchmaker’s marriage deal.  He described Britain as two nations, Leavia and Remainia.  One of the key problems was that politicians don’t understand how little people in general understand or even care about politics.

This problem of a lack of empathy with the public seemed to be echoed in a subsequent debate about building trust in advertising.  The panel was divided.  On one hand a campaign, educating the public about how their data was being used and why, was put forward as a solution.  On the other hand there was a strong feeling that education was meaningless if, as with politics, the public neither understand or care.  They just want the ad bombardment to stop.  Karen Fraser, MBE, head of strategy at Credos, showed footage from research on current reactions to advertising, after pointing out that trust was at an all time low.  Great ads were still talked about, and regarded as icebreakers for society.  But there was much more ambivalence about online advertising where one respondent said: “it’s hard to differentiate between ads and content online”.

In light of this ISBA’s initiative about ad bombardment is to be welcomed.  Direct Line Group’s marketing director Mark Evans explained that cutting down on excess frequency won’t just reduce waste which is a compelling argument for marketers with their CFOs.  It will also help with consumer trust.  A longer term view is necessary instead of jumping to satisfy short term metrics targets.

As an industry we are faced with shifting sands.  More change is to come.  Damian Collins MP, Chair of the DCMS Select Committee, was clear that the days of self regulation may be numbered as today’s media landscape poses very different problems from any in the past.  After dinner speaker Amol Rajan, media editor at the BBC, said that we are at a hinge moment in history, and described Zuckerberg as the Gutenberg of our days, though the changes now are fantastically accelerated compared to the impact of the printing press.  “We are, perhaps”, he said, paraphrasing the great Grace Jones, “slaves to the algorithm”.  Certainly, as Campaign’s global head of media Gideon Spanier writes, doing business these days demands new ideas, new ways of working and new behaviours.

It’s crucial to have empathy with the public, our ultimate customers.  Difficult as it is to really put yourself in another’s shoes, if you don’t at least try to do so then there’s very little hope of building brands for the long term in the digital economy.

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