Culture Secretary speech at the Ad Association LEAD conference

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Good morning everyone. I want to start by recognising the significant role that you, and your sector, play in our economy and there couldn’t be a better forum for that message.

The Advertising Association, IPA and ISBA – are among the strongest voices for the ad industry in the UK and each body is recognised for being an effective champion for all of our brilliant media agencies, brands and creatives.

And it’s a pertinent week for this Conference. Because on the other side of the Atlantic, they are gearing up for one of – if not the – most important days in the advertising calendar. The Super Bowl.

Despite all that has changed with the revolution in what we watch…when we watch…and where we watch TV – this sporting moment has retained its place at the pinnacle of advertising.

With a TV audience over 100 million, the pressure to deliver compelling material is overwhelming.

Last year alone, the cost for a 30 second slot was $7 million.

But what stands out is not the cost, it’s the quality. And the adverts have become part of the event and part of the spectacle.

Ahead of today’s event I was reflecting on what makes advertising so important.

The first thing that comes to mind is the creativity that you see every day expressed through advertising – and how that creativity is the basis for one of the most successful industries in the country.

But more than that, the success of these industries actually provides: cheaper newspapers and magazines for readers to enjoy; your favourite hits on commercial radio; the ability to watch Coronation Street for free; and seeing the entire industry of podcasts setting up from nothing a few years ago and entertaining, informing and challenging us today.

None of these would be free or available at affordable prices without the work you do with adverts.

Advertising is an essential cog in the free market.

And on top of that, you arm people with the information they need to make decisions about what to buy.

I recognise – and this Government recognises – what your industry does for our economy.

Our Creative Industries are growing at twice the rate of the rest of our economy and last year accounted for £126 billion.

And advertising is a massive part of that success story. It already accounts for around 15% of Creative Industries output and all indicators suggest it will continue to grow in size.

Last year alone, Ad Association figures show the UK ad market is estimated to have grown by 6% to reach £37 billion.

This growth and value is a credit to the way our companies have become magnets for the best ingenuity, the best creativity and the best talent.

Today, in 2024, there are very few places in the world that can rival our status as a global hub for the industry.

I’m proud to be the Secretary of State responsible for the advertising industry. It’s undeniably a world-class sector.

But I believe we’re just scratching the surface of what’s possible.

When I became Culture Secretary, I made it one of my first priorities to maximise the potential of our Creative Industries.

And I want advertising to help lead that charge.

Last year I set out a Creative Industries Vision to deliver £50bn of extra economic growth, 1 million extra jobs and a pipeline of talent for 2030.

This will only be possible with Government and industry working together and with a shared purpose.

It’s a blueprint that is packed with measures, from investment in R&D to support for businesses scaling up across the country.

And a major part of it is a focus on skills.

If we want our advertising industry to thrive in the future, we need the right skills for the right jobs.

Advertising has long been an incubator for creative skills and where some of our great artists got their break.

…before Salman Rushdie wrote Midnight’s Children, he worked at Ogilvy and came up with slogans like ‘Irresistibubble’ for Aero.

…Jonathan Glazer – the English director of the haunting new portrayal of Auschwitz, The Zone of Interest – started off as a filmmaker for brands like Stella Artois and Volkswagen.

All incredible talents. All artists who originally found expression in advertising.

So through our Creative Industries Vision we’re working closely with the Department for Education on a Cultural Education Plan.

The aim of which will be to give our children greater access to culture and art at school age.

This week is also National Apprenticeships Week.

Like you, I’m determined to increase take-up of apprenticeships in advertising and marketing sectors.

And that’s why in July I co-chaired, with the Education Secretary, a roundtable exploring solutions to apprenticeship challenges and how we can make sure they are flexible and work in the interests of companies in sectors like advertising.

We’re also working closely with the Advertising Association and The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising on the Creative Careers Programme.

That programme will help encourage 11 to 18 year olds to pursue creative careers through events, panel talks and filmed content with industry leaders, and I know that the Ad Unlocked section of the programme reached around 2,500 students from 100 schools during Discover Week 2023 

The programme will help highlight the range of skills that are relevant to professions like advertising in the future.

Because as we see skills in data and Artificial Intelligence are becoming more and more relevant.

And of course we must all recognise the impact of AI.

I know that, in the same way that advertising was one of the first industries to use machine learning and algorithms for more effective analytics and customer targeting advertising is already leading the way in applying AI to different parts of its day-to-day work.

From more conventional uses like making ads easier to generate and track…

Or writing marketing emails with subject lines and delivery times tailored to specific subscribers.

To less conventional uses like Heinz giving fans of its Ketchup bottle a chance to see it redesigned in an infinite range of styles, from impressionism to a stained glass Ketchup window. Or a recent campaign from Virgin Voyages that allowed users to prompt a digital avatar of Jennifer Lopez to issue customised video invitations to a cruise.

We are seeing companies across this sector beginning to innovate, experiment and embrace AI. To use AI in a positive way, and one that customises the experience for audiences.

WPP’s chief executive, Mark Read, said recently that AI will be as transformative as the internet was 30 years ago. He’s right.

And as the world’s largest advertising group, WPP has been at the forefront of investments in AI and is a company that clearly recognises that this technology should be a creativity-enhancing tool.

As a government, we want to harness the benefits of AI – right across society – to spur productivity and growth.

And I see no reason why it cannot be a force for good for UK advertising.

Advertising agencies have an enviable record of growing in response to technological shifts, not shrinking.

But we are also clear that AI – which relies purely on data – cannot replicate the creativity that can only come from a human being.

We are looking closely at how to ensure creators have the control and transparency they need over their content when it is used by AI models.

And we are committed to ensuring that AI is used responsibly.

To that end, the Advertising Standards Authority recently published their 5 year strategy for AI-Assisted collective ad regulation.

This strategy sets out how they will use their new AI-based Active Ad Monitoring system to identify and swiftly act against irresponsible online ads.

But there is work to do, across all sectors, to understand the risks associated with AI – as well as the benefits.

I want to finish by touching on our online advertising programme.

As many of you will know, tackling online harm has been a key focus for this government and this includes harms associated with advertising.

When we published the response to our consultation on the Online Advertising Programme in July, we set out a plan to build a regulatory framework that would be agile and fit for purpose.

And this included a targeted focus on tackling illegal advertising, and increasing protections for under-18s against adverts for products and services that are illegal to be sold to them. 

We’re committed to doing this and there will be legislation when Parliamentary time allows.

Ahead of that though, we’ll be publishing a further consultation on the details.

And we will look carefully at the interaction with the Online Safety Act, and its fraudulent advertising duty which captures the largest online platforms and search services.

At the same time, under the leadership of people like the co-Chair, Mark Lund, the Online Advertising Taskforce is driving forward actions to raise standards.

And we continue to encourage industry to work closely with the Advertising Standards Authority, including on its principles for intermediaries and platforms.

I know this is something many of you have been involved in and that there’s collaboration across the Advertising Association, IAB UK, IPA & ISBA to address illegal advertising and improve the overall advertising landscape.

I’d like to finish by thanking you all again for the generous invitation to this important event and for your engagement with my department.

You’ve got a packed agenda and one that reflects the fact that advertising has arguably never been more influential than it is today.

I want to continue working with you in a way that is strategic and forward thinking.

And in a way that maximises the true potential of your businesses, your agencies and your brands.

So thank you again, and I look forward to continuing our work with all of you in the future.

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Jose Reber

Jose Reber is a professional writer based in Wisconsin. He guides editorial teams consisting of writers across the US to help them become more skilled and diverse writers. In his free time he enjoys spending time with his wife and children.

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