The AA story began in 1924 in Wembley at an International Advertising Convention. Then known as District 14 of the Advertising Association Clubs of the World (so named as the first 13 districts were in the USA), it became the Advertising Association in 1926. In the same year as District 14 became the AA, the Association of Manufacturers of British Proprietaries or AMBP became PAGB. Professionals in both advertising and pharmaceuticals recognised that while many of their colleagues acted responsibly, there were many adverts, often for cure-alls and other health remedies, that made wildly exaggerated and misleading claims.
As was natural for a trade association of that era, both bodies laid down their aims in lofty but purposeful language. The AA pledged to dedicate our efforts to the cause of better business and social science, and to tell the advertising story simply and without exaggeration and to avoid even a tendency to mislead.
Similarly, PAGB’s principles emphasised honesty and the need to avoid exaggeration. In 1927 PAGB became a member of the Advertising Association and in 1936, it launched the first self-regulatory advertising code in the world. In 1939, the AA adopted the PAGB Code and recommended other organisations do similarly.
The continuing recognition of the importance of advertising regulation by the AA and PAGB led to the creation in 1961 of the Committees of Advertising Practice and the Advertising Standards Authority in 1962. These are still at the heart of advertising self-regulation to this day.
The crucial nature of trust between brands, advertising and the consumer has continued throughout the existence of PAGB and AA. At the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA) annual conference on 5 March 2019, AA President and Unilever CMCO Keith Weed launched a new industry action plan on Trust. The document is borne out of recent research from advertising’s think tank, Credos – led by Director Karen Fraser MBE – and revealed which issues most affect public perceptions of advertising.
The findings show that advertising is valued as a source of information on new products and services, as well as being a form of entertainment. Some respondents also said it can be a force for social good, providing important public health information and representing progressive social values.
Trust and favourability towards advertising were negatively impacted by issues such as ‘bombardment’, as well as feelings of intrusiveness – when advertising is present in what are considered private places, such as letterboxes or email inboxes, or when individually targeted advertising appears to be based on personal data.
Another area of concern is around ads that are felt to be manipulative. Examples cited include claims that are felt to be misleading or too good to be true, or when terms and conditions are judged to hide important information. There were also concerns around advertising to sensitive sectors and vulnerable groups, such as the financially insecure, those with addictions, children, and the elderly.
Concern at the decline in favourability and trust towards advertising led to the creation of a Trust Working Group at the AA – alongside members from across the UK’s biggest advertisers, agencies, media owners, trade associations and tech platforms.
As our President Keith Weed has said: “Trust is a crucial component of advertising. A brand without trust is simply a product; you cannot have one without the other.”
So, what are the plans for improving trust that were announced on 5 March? Industry’s first action will be to reduce advertising bombardment, with a move towards 100% market conformity to the IAB UK Gold Standard in all digital display advertising.
Secondly, industry will commit to reducing excessive advertising frequency and re-targeting. To tackle this, ISBA will bring senior marketing practitioners together to create best practice guidelines aimed at reducing excessive advertising frequency.
Thirdly, industry will ensure the ASA is recognised more widely as the respected self-regulator it is and will also support the ASA’s new five-year strategy on making more impact online.
Next, industry will ensure that our customers and consumers know that their data privacy matters as this is very important to people’s trust in products and services. Lastly, industry is committed to showing that advertising can drive social change through healthy eating campaigns, increasing diversity in advertising content, and by supporting media literacy among young people through our industry programme Media Smart.
Both the AA and PAGB may be a hundred or so years old, but both are as relevant and vital to public confidence in their industries as ever they were. Trust was a founding principle of both organisations and, as we have seen, people still need to have faith in the ads they are seeing and the products they are consuming. With this as our common mission, we are sure both the AA and PAGB will continue to flourish – maybe even for another hundred years! We wish PAGB well on its anniversary and look forward to working with it in the future to promote the best standards in both our industries.