U.K. Ad Foundation Offers Lessons for U.S. Industry

An Ad Age Editorial

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The U.S. marketing industry should keep a close eye on its U.K. counterpart and use it as an example of both what and what not to do.

The U.K. Advertising Association has launched a dedicated foundation called Front Foot in an effort to restore the industry's reputation among cynical Brits. The foundation, which hopes to raise $3.3 million for its own marketing campaign, has already secured support and funding from Unilever, Diageo and Barclays.

According to the AA, there have been 125 pieces of regulation in recent years aimed at restricting advertising in an effort to "protect" the public. Advertising has been blamed for everything from fat kids to pollution. Only 37% of adults in the U.K. have a favorable view of advertising.

What's the lesson here for the U.S. industry?

Where we shouldn't follow the lead of the Brits is in letting things get so bad in the first place. The average American probably lumps in advertising practitioners (and their craft) along with journalists and used-car dealers. We've made the point numerous times in this space that advocates of many stripes see advertising as an easy target. And consumers and politicians, unwilling to address the actual causes of societal ills, are happy to go after the advertising that seems to embody them.

To its credit, the U.S. industry is a little more proactive when it comes to staving off extreme governmental intrusion.

But here's where we could use the U.K.'s AA as a role model. The AA represents marketing, advertising and media associations. We don't think there's an equivalent here in the U.S., where every niche of each industry seems to have a trade association or three. There may be benefits to that approach, but when confronted with huge, general industry issues, the weaknesses become apparent. (To their credit, the Association of National Advertisers and the American Association of Advertising Agencies have been doing a better job at collaborating and getting on the same page.)

The Front Foot effort aims to be a "single contemporary, authoritative, objective source for the value and pitfalls of commercial communications."

Single is the operative word in that mission statement. The U.S. industry would do well to study it.

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