And the winner is…..

“I always was a big believer in things on a global level,”

Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I was recently invited to be the seconder for the opposition for a motion at The Debating Group event in the House of Commons, this October. 

The motion in question was: “A strong UK ad industry is key to returning the economy to good health.”   

My first instinct, as was the audiences’, was to support the motion.  As a proud Fellow of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, surely this must be right?  In fact, I was asked to oppose the motion, at the request of the Economist and the IAA, in support of the lead opposer, Patrick Foulis, Foreign Editor at the Economist.  This required me to think and to think hard about the issue.

The Debating Group is an excellent organisation.  It has been holding debates in the House of Commons since 1975 bringing marketers, politicians, journalists, and the public together to discuss the contentious political issues which surround marketing.

More debate is exactly what our industry, and indeed our society needs.  From difference comes strength, opposing views create a winning argument.  In a new book “The Cancelling of the American Mind” by Lukianoff and Schlott, the authors call on companies to foster not just a diverse workforce, but an intellectually diverse workforce.  “Bosses should make clear that a commitment to free speech is a condition of employment”, writes the Economist reviewer

Patrick nailed the argument against the motion by contextualising the real contribution of advertising to the economy in the UK.

The proposers of the motion gave excellent and strong reasons why advertising’s contribution should extend beyond this of course, which Patrick successfully countered. 

My arguments to support Patrick’s opposition were twofold:  

That the motion was based on a narrow and outdated definition of the ad industry, and that it ignored the global and interconnected nature of the world in which we live.

First, I challenged the definition of the “ad industry”. The ad industry is often only considered in respect of creating and distributing advertising messages, such as TV commercials, print ads, billboards, or online banners. But this is a very limited and old-fashioned view of what our industry is today. In fact, our industry today is much more than advertising. It’s about events, ad funded programmes, sports sponsorship, influencer marketing and the creator economy estimated by Goldman Sachs as a $250bn sector, branded content, and more. These are not just add-ons or gimmicks; they are essential parts of the marketing mix that can deliver significant results for businesses.  The good news about the new communications economy in which we live is that there’s 187 minutes a day more media consumption than 10 years ago.  But 46% of this is in media that isn’t ad funded.  People are gaming (and everyone is a gamer), they’re on subscription-based video, music streaming and podcast services.

So, reaching people with advertising is harder, and when ads do reach them they have more impatience with irrelevant advertising than they used to.  44% of adults say ads are a waste of their time and this has grown by 80% in the last decade.  Accenture research claims that in the US alone companies are losing $1 trillion in annual revenues to their competitors because they are not consistently relevant enough. 

I therefore argued that the motion should be opposed on the basis of the narrowness of the definition of advertising, we must instead recognize the diversity and creativity of our industry as a strategy for growth in the broadest way today.

My second challenge to the motion was the focus on the UK economy alone. The motion suggested that the UK ad industry can somehow operate in isolation from the rest of the world, and that its strength is only relevant for the UK’s economic recovery. But this is a very unrealistic and short-sighted view of how the world works. In fact, we live in a globalized and interconnected world, where borders are blurred, cultures are mixed, and problems are shared. We cannot afford to think only about ourselves or our own country; we must think about our impact on others and our role in the global community.

There are three reasons why thinking globally is important.

  1. Generation Z, the young consumers who will shape the future of consumption, think of themselves as global citizens.  This means that they are more open-minded, curious, and tolerant of different cultures and perspectives. They are also more aware of global issues, such as climate change, human rights, and social justice. They expect brands to reflect their values and to act responsibly on a global scale. Therefore, our industry has to understand and appeal to this generation’s global mindset.
  2. Focussing on the UK ignores the benefits that talent migrating across the world delivers for innovation and growth. History shows us that innovation often happens when people from different backgrounds and disciplines come together and exchange ideas. For example, one of the factors that enabled the Industrial Revolution was the migration of skilled workers from Europe to America. They brought with them new technologies and techniques that transformed manufacturing and productivity. Similarly, we need diverse talent and thinking from around the world, who can bring fresh perspectives and insights to solve complex problems and to export our talent to share our perspectives. Therefore, we must reject any idea of a UK industry in isolation and embrace and celebrate diversity and mobility. 
  3. Thinking tribally about the UK is not good for anyone. As we have seen in recent years, nationalism and isolationism can lead to conflict, division, and resentment. They can prevent us from finding common solutions to common challenges. We need more cooperation and collaboration across countries and regions, not less. We need more empathy and compassion for others, not less. We need more peace and harmony in the world, not less.  Let’s remember the lesson from Will Smith in the movie Independence Day, where humanity faces an alien invasion that threatens to destroy civilizationThe only way to survive is to unite as one species and fight back against a common enemy

In summary, we must reject outdated tribalism and old-fashioned localism.  Instead, we should be ambitious for the benefit of human kind by rising above tribal instincts, and think about making a plan to benefit the world, not just the UK.

Delighted to say that team Patrick and Sue won the motion, swinging the vote significantly from before the debate.  The real winner though was the Debating Group for stimulating positive disagreement and challenging discussions.

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