The Advertising Business Group’s Board was elected last week at the AGM. The ABG also has relations with the World Federation of Advertisers and the European Advertising Standards Alliance. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: A new advertising and marketing industry group — featuring some of the biggest names in the business — has been set up in the UAE to ensure that ads are “factual” and do not churn out tall claims. The Advertising Business Group (ABG) features the likes of Google and Facebook, heavy advertisers such as consumer goods giants Procter & Gamble (P & G), Unilever and Nestle and media buying major Omnicom.

The coming together represents an effort to “raise awareness throughout the marketing and advertising industry on what responsible advertising means and why it matters for our relationship with the region’s consumers and their trust in brands,” said Sanjiv Kakkar, Executive Vice-President at Unilever Mena, Turkey, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus and the Chairperson of the newly created entity. “We will also reach out to consumers, both to let them know that we take the issue of responsible advertising, of fair, factually correct advertising, with the utmost seriousness.

“We want to hear their views, and we will provide them with a means to raise concerns about advertising which they believe is misleading or incorrect, which we can then raise with the advertiser directly.”

ABG will work on the principle of “self-regulation” - “Irresponsible marketing damages consumer confidence and provides little or no sustained return on advertising investment, whereas the opposite is true — even if the ‘bad’ advertising only accounts for a small percentage of the whole,” Kakkar added. “The adage that people forget the good and remember the bad remains firmly in place ... whether advertisers like it or not.”

ABG cites the 715 violations related to campaigns done by the health care industry and recorded by the Ministry of Health & Prevention last year. Of these 20 per cent of violations appeared on Instagram. “There’s clearly more that the industry can do to be responsible advertisers through the use of accurate claims and imagery,” Kakkar said.

“We believe in the effectiveness of self-regulation, and that such regulation protects consumers and brands without stifling innovation. We are part of society and we have to take on the responsibility for ethical advertising and behaviour ourselves as an industry.”

Ethical advertising

In the past there have been such industry-wide efforts at self-monitoring. But the composition of the new grouping suggests significant clout that can be harnessed to the greater good. Fact-based ad — and news — are even more vital at a time of information overload, more so with digital and social media feeding into them. The presence of Facebook and Google in ABG can only help take the discussion on ethical advertising forward. And “particularly given the speed at which the digital advertising industry is developing.”

The first general meeting was held on November 24 and a board elected. ABG also has struck has relations with the World Federation of Advertisers and the European Advertising Standards Alliance. “At a local level, we are registered with the Dubai Chamber of Commerce; they have been incredibly supportive in terms of working with us to establish the ABG and to promote our vision of what advertising should be in the region,” said Samar Hayat, Commercial Leader and Brand Director Arabian Peninsula for Procter & Gamble. (He is the Vice-Chair of the first ABG board.)

“We are also working closely with the IAA (International Advertising Association) as we see a shared agenda.”

Now that the formation has been got through, the next logical step would be to expand the area of influence. “We will be based in — and initially focus on — Dubai, due to its position as the hub for the advertising industry across the Middle East,” said Hayat. “Longer term, we will review how we can assist the advertising industry in key markets across the Middle East, to raise awareness of and promote best practices in responsible advertising.

“Our members are pan-Arab, and we aim to support the advertising industry where we can in terms of promoting ethical, responsible advertising.”

Also, it will try and co-opt more representation from advertising agencies and allied entities. Currently, MCN, Omnicom and Choueiri Group are members.

“We are approaching more agencies and publishers to join ABG,” said Kakkar. “This must be a collaborative effort and partnership between advertisers, agencies and publishers if it is to succeed and if we’re going to effectively promote responsible advertising. Otherwise, what we are trying to do, namely to effectively self-regulate the advertising industry — will not be as effective.”