Letter from the Editor: Advertising just needs to learn how to sell itself better

The editor of The Independent on why advertising isn't a luxury to be discarded when times are tough.
  • @c_blackhurst

There was quite a gathering from across marketing and media land at the LEAD 2013 conference organised by the Advertising Association this week.

Doubtless, a fair proportion of you, on reading that will instantly turn up your noses. It's pure snobbishness, in a country where advertising as an industry and profession is still not taken seriously enough.

To be fair, though, as I said in a panel discussion on this very point, part of the problem lies with advertising itself. Weirdly, for people who pride themselves on getting the message across, they do a poor job at selling themselves – specifically the importance and economic contribution of their trade.

Too many businesses regard advertising as an extra, an add-on to be discarded when times are tough. In fact, the reverse is the case. For the conference, the Advertising Association asked business advisory firm Deloitte to examine the effect of advertising. The ensuing report, Advertising Pays, finds that advertising plays a vital, enhancing role in the UK economy, generating £100bn of GDP. On average, £1 of advertising spend returns £6 to UK GDP. Most importantly of all, says Deloitte, GDP growth follows advertising investment, not the other way round.

Some in the audience tried to assert that the press was to blame for not giving advertising a proper hearing. This struck me as perverse and wrong – not least since we depend on advertising for a substantial chunk of our income. I said I like nothing more than a story taking the reader inside the thinking behind a new blockbuster advert or marketing campaign (the John Lewis "snowman" is a recent one that springs to mind). That sort of tale well-told has a lot to offer: human behaviour, entrepreneurship, competitiveness, planning, creative genius and endeavour.

Of course, there are examples of exploitation and the peddling of untruths and we would be failing in our duty if we did not report them. But there are also more uplifting instances where someone has dreamt up an advert that is simply brilliant. Give us more of those, let us meet the brains behind the advert that has got the whole country talking.

Advertising has come up with a three-point plan: to encourage businesses to advertise; to boost the production of adverts in the UK; to tackle stifling red tape. Let's hope it works: as the report says, advertising pays.