Claire Beale On Advertising: Adland goes on the offensive in fight for survival

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The Independent Online

It is the mark of a troubled industry that the advertising business is suddenly tooling itself up with new think-tanks and foundations as it prepares to battle for survival.

You see, creative brilliance and a flair for persuasion are no longer enough to win advertising agencies respect in their clients' boardrooms. And all that creative brilliance and flair for persuasion has done little to convince the public, anti-advertising pressure groups and the Government that advertising is responsible, trustworthy and a key economic driver.

Ad budgets are being slashed, agencies' work is less valued than ever and advertising freedoms are coming under increasing pressure. Something must be done, so – finally – adland is doing it. The industry founded on emotion and creativity is turning to science and fact for its defence.

First to doff the gloves was the Advertising Association, which last week launched the Front Foot Foundation. The AA represents the interests of advertisers, agencies and media owners and now its new chief executive, Tim Lefroy, is asking those constituents to stump up more cash. The AA wants more money to fund better research with which the industry can go on the offensive, armed with robust facts and data not just supposition and crossed fingers.

The association has discovered that only 15 per cent of adults trust advertising, and this at a time when the right to advertise (alcohol, toys, junk food) is constantly being called into question. In the past five years alone, 125 new pieces of legislation controlling advertising and marketing freedoms have been imposed. The AA needs hard proof that advertising can be a social and economic force for good. And if more ammo isn't put behind advertising's cause, the AA argues, there might not be an advertising industry in years to come.

Of course, it's a terrible time for the AA to be passing round the begging bowl, asking companies to commit up to £50,000 each. Redundancies, pay and hiring freezes abound but will AA members dig deep to take a long-term view? Shareholders and the City won't thank them for it right now. But the AA's Front Foot Foundation wasn't adland's only line of defence/attack opened up last week. Down at the IPA, battle plans were also being drawn up.

Since Rory Sutherland took over as president of the IPA earlier this year, he has brought a greater intellectual rigour to proceedings and that took a sharper form last week when the IPA unveiled its Behavioural Economics Think Tank (BETT for short, though this gives it a rather tentative air).

Again it's about proving the value of advertising, or perhaps more accurately it's about proving how valuable advertising agencies can be to their clients if they begin to employ the principles of behavioural economics. And again it's about arming the industry with science and facts.

Behavioural economics uses science to further the understanding of why we do what we do; and applying that understanding to advertising can increase its effectiveness. Sutherland, inspired by the book Nudge by Dick Thaler and Cass Sunstein, is really quite evangelical about the potential of behavioural economics and full of fascinating examples. Like how our behaviour is affected by the price we've paid for something, so people who pay more for over-the-counter pain relief products report more effective pain relief than those who buy a cheaper brand, even though the only variable is price.

The IPA hopes these new insights into consumers will help agencies develop closer relationships with their clients. This way, agencies might just have a chance of building their business beyond the commoditised, discountable and low-valued supply of ads. Taken together, the AA and IPA initiatives represent a credible fight-back by the advertising industry. Both, though, will take time and money to nurture – two commodities in short supply in adland right now.

Best in Show: Fire safety (Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R)

It's a business under the cosh, but much of the work of advertising is about helping us lead healthier, safer lives. Take the latest ad by Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R. For what is effectively a public safety announcement, this is a beautiful ad. It compares breathing in smoke and drowning, so we see a couple drowning in their bed as the paraphernalia of everyday life floats by. It's an arresting image that hooks you until the endline: "Don't drown in toxic smoke, test your smoke alarm weekly". And it's a powerful argument for the role of advertising.