- Interview with Stephan Loerke
Stephan, thanks for talking with me today. I am trying to create a picture for Advertising and Society Review readers of what the regulatory challenges are today for global brands and what the major organizations, like the World Federation of Advertisers are doing.
It’s extremely complex. Let me spend some time just explaining what exists today and what kind of changes there have been before we talk about what the WFA does.
Yes, why don’t we start with that? I think it would be useful to start with the origins of the WFA.
WFA is the global trade body representing brand owners. We bring together brands, or clients if you will, which operate across the globe. Brands that have a global footprint. It is an organization that was set up 58 years ago, in 1953, by a group of visionaries in our industry who anticipated that a number of marketing issues would have a cross-border dimension. They foresaw that advertising and marketing would not only be looked at purely from a national perspective. History has proven them right, and certainly in the last ten years where we have seen a spectacular acceleration of the globalization of marketing, which is due to two things.
One is the globalization of commerce; it is basically the opening up of a number of geographies to the market economy. Countries like China, Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Vietnam—they are all countries that are basically new to the global marketplace and where brands are seeking to establish themselves.
The second big driver is technology: satellite TV, the Internet, digital radio. All these new media have blurred the borders and boundaries which, for many decades, had conveniently partitioned the world into national marketplaces. These two drivers have significantly changed the environment in which brand owners operate.
Now what is WFA doing for its members? We have a dual mission statement. The first one is that we champion responsible marketing communication. We recognize that with freedom comes responsibility, so it is our role to be interfacing with governments, be they national or regional, in Brussels with European institutions, or even global, with UN agencies. We will champion the interests of responsible marketers. We’ve recognized, since our foundation, that freedom comes with a price. There is a commitment in this organization to be building and developing responsible and effective self-regulation. And it is only if brands are perceived to be acting responsibly that there will be enough trust among people and among governments to be giving us the freedoms we are calling for.
In the vast majority of countries, there is not a constitutional right to advertise. There needs to be a license to operate given by society, and that goes hand-in-hand with a commitment on our side to be building the necessary infrastructure and processes to be meeting those expectations. We want to make sure that we meet those expectations. That is the first mission statement. This is not something we have said only in the last five or ten years. That dates back to 1953.
The second mission statement is to be helping marketers increase their efficiency and effectiveness. It’s basically helping them learn from their peers by exchanging best practices and by benchmarking the way they conduct their marketing strategies. The world of marketing today is evolving so quickly—given the globalization I just mentioned, and the speed and scale of the technological revolution—that even the best established brand owners, even those perceived to be the most advanced, can’t keep up with the speed of change if they have to invent it all by themselves. So we’ve moved to an age where the speed of change is such that brand owners need to be accessing a network of support where they can learn from their colleagues in order to get it right. It’s basically cutting down on trial and error and being able to make the right decisions in an environment which is constantly changing. We are that kind of support network which helps them do that.