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Industry leader Keith Weed – UK Global CMO

Keith Weed CBE, President, Advertising Association - UK
The hardest learnt of life’s lessons are often the ones with the deepest impact and I truly believe this time of lockdowns is teaching us lessons that will have the most positive legacy.

As Unilever’s CMO, Keith Weed drove the digital transformation of the FMCG powerhouse. As president of the Advertising Association he now leads the relationship between the industry and government, as well as sitting on boards at WPP, Sainsbury’s and the RHS.

On a practical business level, it has shown many company leaders they can change plans quickly and operate organisations in a way many never thought feasible before. The way we work is changing forever.

On a personal level, I am struck by how the pandemic has brought out the best of people and the worst of people. It’s been an amplifier of good traits and bad traits, however, I’m pleased to say I’ve seen more examples of the good, with people going the extra mile and helping others, than negative behaviour.

On a more abstract level, it has reinforced the crucial role for brands and their advertising in making positive contributions to daily life, how the work of advertising can back public health initiatives and support community cohesion. The work to tackle the coronavirus crisis as seen by campaigns such as ‘Enjoy Summer Safely’ is proof of this.We can’t make a positive impact on people’s lives if people don’t trust us. A brand without trust is just a product, and advertising without trust is just noise

To my mind though, the biggest issue for the advertising industry as it entered lockdown was the need to rebuild public trust in advertising. We can’t make a positive impact on people’s lives if people don’t trust us. A brand without trust is just a product, and advertising without trust is just noise. The movement of brands having a social purpose – something I helped accelerate at Unilever – had already changed the narrative in our industry. With societies under exceptional pressure during the pandemic, brands with a strong purpose and roots both delivered on that promise, acted on their purpose and boosted brand metrics at a time of exceptional change.

Rebuilding public trust in advertising goes far beyond the pandemic. It is central to issues of inclusion and climate change, both critical to our industry’s strategy for success in 2021. A key part of building trust among people is for them to see themselves reflected in the advertising we create and in the make-up of our workforce. Similarly, the public needs to know we fully understand the role of brands in safeguarding the environment, and how they can be a positive force in tackling the climate emergency.

The most important lesson is that rebuilding the trust of the public in our industry and the work we do remains a must for us all – everything we can achieve in the coming years on the biggest of issues facing us all is linked to how much the public trusts us and our work.


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