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Opinion and Insight
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Disruption Doesn’t Just Mean ‘Something Like Uber’

LBB Editorial, 3 months ago

LBB’s Laura Swinton on the uncertain consequences of Brexit for the ad industry

Disruption Doesn’t Just Mean ‘Something Like Uber’

This week’s ‘Laura’s Word’ was supposed to be easy. It was supposed to be about Cannes. Some funny anecdotes. Words of admiration for winning work. Some pointed asides about controversies. And lots and lots of terribly profound insights and reflections. (SO profound. I really cannot stress enough how interesting and useful they were to be. Honest.) But then 51.9% of the UK decided to sabotage that by voting to leave the European Union. And now I just can’t think about anything else. So, sorry Phil, Terry and the team at Cannes Lions – I really did have a brilliant week and learned a lot – but this week’s column is just unavoidably ‘Brexit’.

Waking up on Friday morning, with a fuzzy but not particularly horrendous (by Cannes standards) head, I rolled over and fumbled over and reached for my phone. Nah, I thought. That can’t be right. I must still be drunk. Or maybe I’m dreaming. I do, after all, often confuse the dream world with reality – not because my waking life is particularly fantastical, mind you. No. I just have really boring dreams. Anyway. I blinked a couple of times and decided to check the BBC app again. And there it was. Nah. That can’t be it. But then I felt that sickening lurch in my stomach – a good few hundred nano seconds before my brain got up to speed with what was happening. 

The UK had voted to leave the EU.

Which no one, not even the people who voted to Leave, expected to actually happen.

The rest of the day consisted of a couple of interviews in which my head really was not, if I’m honest, all that focused on the world of advertising. Lots of inexpert punditry doled out to bemused Americans and perplexed Europeans as I swung from ‘nah, it’ll be fine’ to ‘this is how the apocalypse begins’, and back again.

So now we’re back home and there’s been a few days for it all to sink in, what does this mean for the advertising industry in the UK and globally? 

No, seriously. I’m asking you. What does it mean?

It’s impossible to really tell right now, as there seems to be no concrete plan for what Brexit really means and how it will happen. The PM has resigned, the Conservatives are dancing coyly around the leadership contest and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is haemorrhaging support and no one seems to be in charge. With the dip in the pound against the dollar and the euro, I’ve noticed a few production and service companies really leveraging the fact that Britain has suddenly become a cheaper place for international agencies and brands to shoot and produce content. I admire that stoic pragmatism; it encapsulates the ‘let’s get on with it’ mentality that the industry will need to get through an uncertain time.

Last week Addison and I spoke to many Europeans about Brexit and, of course, there are many Europeans in the industry who have made London their home. People with homes, families, who have lived here for years are suddenly uncertain about their status. Today in the Houses of Parliament (outgoing) Prime Minister David Cameron said that he could not guarantee that EU citizens currently living in the UK will be able to stay as it’s part of the exit negotiations, though he pointed out that the Leave campaign have said that they want to ensure existing EU residents have their rights protected. So, no promises but hopefully not mass deportation of European talent. Hopefully.

As for agencies, it’s been worrying this week as businesses like HSBC who use the UK as a gateway to the rest of the EU have said they’re looking to transfer jobs elsewhere and companies like Virgin have revealed dramatic drops in share value. So what will happen to European headquarters based in London and working with London and UK-based agencies? Is the drop a temporary panic or is it going to last longer? On the other hand… the creative industries certainly have an interesting challenge to puzzle out when it comes to buoying up consumer confidence in uncertain times.

The Advertising Association petitioned the UK government with an interesting letter, saying that the industry needs reassurance as it’s often a bellwether for the rest of the economy. Oh, and if the UK does follow through with Brexit, could we please ditch all that nasty EU red tape about advertising E-Cigarettes and financial services plz. I’ll leave that one to you to ponder. 

Looking further to the future, I can’t help but wonder if this might also mean a resurgence in Edinburgh and Glasgow’s creative industries? It’s contingent on a lot of ‘ifs’, mind you. If Scotland (who voted largely to stay in the EU) are granted a second referendum on independence, if Brexit has been enough to shake previously pro-Union Scots to jump sides (anecdotally, it sounds as if, for the moment, it has) and if Scotland is then able to retain its EU membership status (taking over the UK’s membership, so to speak, rather than leaving and having to reapply) then perhaps the country might attract clients and EU citizen talent looking to leave London for another English-speaking gateway to Europe. As a Scot (fingers crossed for dual citizenship, amiright?), it’s weirdly exciting. 

Actually, I wonder if Dublin might also see its local creative scene grow too?

On a scarier note, parts of the UK have also seen a shocking jump in racist and xenophobic abuse and attacks. A sickeningly large minority have seen the Leave verdict as an excuse to act on ugly views and urges that previously they had kept (more or less) hidden. On a personal note, I don’t even know what to say, other than I hope that this isn’t a sign of things to come and that we at LBB can’t bear the thought of our friends and colleagues in the industry feeling in any way unsafe or unwelcome.

So yes, it’s been a week of uncertainty. In the ad industry we tend to use the word ‘disruption’ to mean ‘something like Uber’. This is disruption. Real disruption. And at the moment, we just don’t know what it means.