The Biggest Talking Points of Advertising Week Europe 2016

Speaker at Lectern

The fourth annual Advertising Week Europe (AWE) closed on the 22nd of April. The event brought together some of the biggest names in the marketing industry to discuss the future of advertising. Although not without its controversies - most of which were caused by Bernie Eccleston - the event was well received, particularly for its new venue, London's Picturehouse Central. Read below to learn more about the biggest talking points of the week.

Marketing & Brexit

As we approach the referendum that will decide whether Britain remains in the EU (23rd June), potential Brexit and its possible effects on the marketing industry was an understandably hot topic at AWE. Although there are passionate arguments on both sides and uncertainty in public polls, Britain’s departure from Europe is fiercely opposed by the marketing industry, as a poll by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising illustrates that only 4% of members would prefer leaving, with 89% wanting to stay in Europe and rest undecided.

The main reasons marketers gave for being against Brexit were the general uncertainty surrounding exactly what would happen immediately after any exit, and the difficulties that may arise concerning the trading of goods and the movement of people between the UK and Europe. Additionally, marketers raised concerns about data laws and the complications of British companies handling European data.

Although there is an overwhelming majority of marketers who believe that Britain should stay in the EU, some did raise concerns that there has been a lack of effective marketing for “Bremain” - even the "Britain Stronger in Europe" campaign from Adam & Eve/DDB has failed to connect with the public in a similar way to their incredibly popular John Lewis Christmas ads.

Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, said in an AWE session that he is worried by the possibility of Britain leaving Europe, predicting that “it’s going to be a tight vote” and that "the economic negatives [of Brexit] are very strong … there would be a damaging impact on trade, investment, and jobs. Clients have said to me that on June 24th if we're out, they will close plants and move them to Eastern Europe."


Programmatic advertising has been a theme for the last few years. Despite being mentioned throughout AWE, several marketers voiced their disdain of the term, with Oli Whitten, Rubicon Project, SVP Europe and Theo Theodorou, managing director, EMEA of xAd, labelling it “jargon”, preferring the term “automation”.

One of the recurring questions of the week was when we can expect to see programmatic become a cornerstone of the marketing industry. For some companies, it already is - Jonathan Forster, EMEA VP of Spotify, said that 70% of the company’s ad revenue already comes from programmatic buying technologies across Europe and believes that their ad business will be entirely automated within five years. In contrast, however, it is likely to be much longer before we see ads being served into traditionally broadcast TV due to concerns surrounding compliance and broadcasters losing control.


Diversity - or the lack of it - is still an issue in the marketing industry. In addition to the numerous discussions and dedicated sessions on gender equality throughout the week, Channel 4 announced the Superhumans Wanted initiative, offering £1m in free ad space to a campaign featuring disability and disabled talent in an attempt to boost on- and off-screen representation of disabled people. The winning campaign will be given the first ad break in the opening ceremony of the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games on the 7th September.


Adblocking is a growing problem for publishers, and in March the Internet Advertising Bureau revealed that 22% of British adults use adblocking software, up 4% from November last year. There were several discussions surrounding the state of adblocking in today’s marketing environment, most notably within the first hour of the event when News UK’s Chris Duncan shared the stage with Brendan Eich, the founder of Mozilla and new adblocking browser Brave which Duncan’s parent company, News Corp, has sent a cease and desist letter to.

There was a focus on the legal issues surrounding adblocking and the countermeasures that have been put in place to prevent it. Using adblocking software is legal (as a German court has ruled 5 times), but Alexander Hanff, a privacy consultant and campaigner for Think Privacy, claimed that publishers that use client-side scripts to detect and ban adblocking users, such as the Telegraph, are breaking European law.

To detect a user is using an ad-blocker is a contravention of European Union law. I spent the last year talking to regulators across Europe who all confirmed this.

- Alexander Hanff

Although Brexit and diversity are hot topics, they are important issues in all sectors rather than being exclusive to the marketing industry. This combined with a lack of major developments in adblocking and programmatic, meant this year’s AWE didn’t herald any particularly exciting new developments for marketers. Roll on next year, when there might be some credible solutions to adblocking emerging and programmatic will have taken another giant step towards the mainstream - hopefully we’ll see some real developments in the ad industry!

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