Simon Litherland's Speech at the ISBA's annual conference

09 March 2016

ISBA President’s Speech

Thank you, Mike, and good morning everyone.  I am delighted to be with you today for this, my second, ISBA Annual Conference.

It has been another eventful and challenging year for the UK’s advertisers.  Clearly the UK has not been immune to the slowdown in the global economy.  Many of us in the room will be all too familiar with the challenge of growing the bottom and top line in a deflationary market and for all of us there is no doubt a sharper focus on ROI.  The political landscape has changed considerably since last year’s election, bringing with it new pressures on our industry and, despite our best efforts, we know that trust in advertising remains low among consumers.  

Looking ahead, I expect 2016 to be no different and I don’t see any let-up in these pressures.

In the near-term, we also face the uncertainty of the EU Referendum.  The country will decide on the 23rd of June, and each of us will form our own views as to the better option for the UK.  With the campaigning already well underway, we can look forward to a well-orchestrated campaign as the two sides battle for our hearts and minds, and we can only hope that the protagonists will take care to abide by the same principles of “responsible advertising” as the people in this room.

On a second political front, we have the highly anticipated Childhood Obesity Strategy, which we now know is delayed until the summer.   Whilst this may not seem directly relevant to all of us here today, and my own sector has borne the brunt of much of the campaigning around the strategy, it is in fact an important issue for all of us.  Not a week goes by without another call for further advertising restrictions or even additional taxation. 

While such radical proposals tick the box of ‘doing something about it’, I strongly believe that real progress will only flow from a holistic approach to the issue, with industry and Government working together.

Advertising is not a driver of obesity.  However, for our part, we acknowledge the need to review the situation in the non-broadcast and online space to see whether similar restrictions to those already in place on broadcast should be applied. That is what the current CAP consultation is about.

I would also like to see the whole industry stand behind the holistic approach I referred to, using advertising to promote positive behaviour change, with an increased focus on exercise, diet, parenting and education.

This responsible approach to advertising is just one of the actions Britvic and other responsible food and drink manufacturers are ready to take in fighting obesity. 

I believe this, alongside our ongoing efforts to reduce sugar and calories in our products, can make a real difference.  Personally, I am enormously proud of the bold steps we have taken at Britvic, removing some 18 billion calories from the market since 2012. And many other companies can point to similar progress.

However, in order to make further substantive progress, we need government to commit to a collaborative approach to the issue. The arbitrary imposition of restrictions alone will not do it. It is going to require commitment from all stakeholders to an agreed strategy with measurable outcomes and clear accountabilities.


Moving on, as I mentioned earlier and as delegates at LEAD2016 heard recently, trust in advertising remains at a worryingly low level among consumers.

As Andy Duncan put it, we now have a “burning platform” for change, and we need to work harder to demonstrate that we remain committed to acting responsibly as an industry. A key element of this will be bringing out more clearly the “value exchange” in the relationship between advertising and consumers, and a review of how we use consumers’ data.

It is not going to be easy, but I can certainly pledge ISBA’s commitment, on behalf of British advertisers, to the required pan-industry initiative to achieve these objectives. 

(ISBA focus areas)

Much of ISBA’s focus in the coming year will be in the fast-changing online space where we’ve seen some progress but where there’s more to do.

  • Programmatic trading continues to advance its promise of targeting and commercial efficiencies and is now extending to offline media, but serious questions persist about whether ads actually get shown, as well as their placement.
  • Viewability of online advertising continues to be a source of concern for advertisers, and there are calls from advertisers to revisit the criteria against which an ad is deemed to be ‘viewable’.
  • Ad Fraud is a major concern for advertisers, with “the ’bots” successfully masquerading as real consumers and leading to significant wastage and reduced reach.  ISBA is a founding and principal member of the Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards and its Anti-Fraud Commercial Working Party.  This group has made good progress in encouraging ad tech companies and publishers to gain a seal which confirms that their processes reduce the risk of fraud - but there is more to do.
  • Good progress has already been made in Online Brand Safety - preventing ads being placed on sites or amongst content that’s inappropriate. 

Several important cross-industry initiatives have been launched, including the Digital Trading Standards Group’s Good Practice Principles and the Infringing Website List.  The latter is operated by the City of London Police’s Intellectual Property Crime Unit, who we’re proud to have exhibiting here today.

ISBA also works closely with Government’s Intellectual Property Office which protects creators’ rights from IP piracy such as illegal file sharing.  Each body plays a key role in stemming ad fraud, the proceeds of which often fund organised crime and terrorism and exceed $7bn in the US alone.

  • And the ‘issue of the day’ is of course Ad Blocking, which represents a fundamental challenge to the industry’s business model.  This issue can only be addressed on a true pan-industry basis, with ISBA rightly taking a leading advocacy role.

This cluster of issues – a number of which will be addressed in the programme today - add up to a significant workload in the year ahead, and it is crucial that all players in the industry play their part in addressing them.

Beyond online, Transparency across the board remains a priority, informing as it does the key issue of trust.  The outcomes of a major initiative currently being undertaken by our US counterpart may accelerate progress here.

And in the meantime, we’ll also be continue to pay attention to audience measurement across all media channels and making sure the advertiser view is heard as Government contemplates a sale of Channel 4 and reviews the Charter which will shape the BBC for the next ten years.

(EU dimension)

Finally, as most of our laws and regulations – currently at least – derive from EU directives, I’d like to touch on two particular developments which feature on ISBA’s European radar.

The first is data protection and privacy, which has been the subject of much debate in Brussels since 2012. We can expect this to be finalised this year, with significant impact on the collection and use of data. At LEAD2016, Chris Graham, ICO Commissioner, issued some words of warning on the severe penalties faced by those found to be in breach of the General Data Protection Act.

The second is the plan to revisit the Audio-Visual Media Services Directive, with a focus, in this convergent world, on how the rules can be rolled out to cover the internet, beyond just ‘TV-like’ services.


So that’s enough from me. All that remains for me to say is that I hope you enjoy the programme today and I look forward to working with you and with ISBA in the coming year.

Thank you.

You can watch the speech here

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