11 moments of joy from Engage 2024

Jun 5th '24

A Sylvanian-themed brand collab, how to tackle Slack bombardment, and election insight from Theresa May’s former advisor were among the highlights at this year’s Engage, writes the IAB’s Jessie Sampson


“Digital ads are a conduit to joy,” explained James Chandler – CMO of the IAB – opening Engage 2024. With the event dedicated to rediscovering the joy of digital, James set the tone for the morning by spotlighting how the ad-funded internet give us access to a vast array of content, entertainment and resources “regardless of your class, status, where you were born, the accent you have, your material wealth or the size of your Q2 bonus… it’s all free because of advertising.”


“We’ve got this model that really works” he continued, drawing on data from The Digital Dividend to demonstrate the value that people get from having free access to the internet. However, that’s not to say that it’s all plain sailing. As James put it: “We need to really care about where we put ads, care about what they look like, care about the signals that we put into them”. His overriding ask for people to keep in mind throughout the event? “Let’s not do advertising down as an industry… we have the power to make ads better. Maybe even as joyful as the amazing content and experiences they enable”. Here’s a snapshot of what followed…


  • Multi-hyphenated humans

Cilla Black, meticulous dishwasher stacking and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson don’t have a huge amount in common on the face of it, but they all came up during EssenceMediacom’s session. Geoff De Burca, Chief Strategy Officer, and Lindsey Jordan, Head of Creative Strategy, looked at how the joy of the weird fundamentally unites us as humans. People have myriad and diverse interests and, as Lindsey pointed out, “digital facilitates this” with 70% of the UK belonging to an online community or subculture. In order to resonate with multi-hyphenated humans “brands need to be multi-hyphenated… [they need to] think about how they help us embrace ourselves”. Who’s doing this well? RSPBCurrys and Burberry are all excelling, with Geoff urging advertisers to “be clear on your brands’ DNA and find co-creators in communities to help bring out your weird side”.


  • Embrace collective work  

It Takes A Village Collective describes itself as ‘a hub for Black leaders to proactively and collaboratively implement action’ and has a clear mission: for one in five in the industry to be a Black woman by 2027. As Chloe Davies, its CEO and Founder, put it, “this isn’t about pointing a finger. It’s about collaborative, collective work” to reclaim Black women’s narrative and ensure that they have the agency and autonomy that is often automatically afforded to others. “What is powerful is when Black women are given the ability to create impact”, Chloe said. The first step to bring about change is to build more insight and data around Black women’s experiences in the ad industry via the global study, We Can’t All Be Lying.


  • Audio is unlocking attention

Sam Crowther, Creative Director at AudioStack, took delegates on an aural tour of “ why sound is so joyful and how it can be joyful for you as advertisers”. From Evensong at Tewkesbury Abbey to Freddie Mercury on stage at Live Aid, Sam showed us how sound can tap into emotions – ultimately increasing attention rates and impacting memorability. The technology around sound is evolving too, with AI tools, text to speech and voice cloning all allowing advertisers to adopt dynamic audio strategies – the latter of which was demonstrated with an eerily accurate clone of James Chandler’s familiar tones.


  • Harness the power of data   

“What can the future of digital advertising be?” asked Anne Coghlan, Co-Founder and COO of Scope3. Sustainability has to be at the core of our collective plan, she argued, with collaboration and improved use of data key to achieving it. “By focusing on sustainability, we can have a better conversation about what it means to be effective”, with the rise and subsequent outcry about Made for Advertising sites a timely example of how advertisers can cut down on waste. By combining performance data with sustainability objectives, Anne urged the audience to create strategies that improve both the effectiveness of ad spend and the overall sustainability of the digital ecosystem.


  • Laughter is a currency of fun 

Children laugh an average of 300 times a day, yet as adults we only laugh 17 times a day, according to WeTransfer’s VP of Global Sales, Dara Nasr – a poignant fact given “laughter is the currency of fun” and having fun is key to creativity. He pointed out that `’90% of WeTransfer users prefer their experience with ads”, with the company prioritising clever and aesthetic creative. He encouraged advertisers to invest in the joy of creativity – describing “those two things as incredibly important to businesses, consumers and, most importantly, to humans”. This was embodied in a performance by spoken word artist Dan Whitlam, who shared a powerful ode to the brilliance of good storytelling.


  • Refuse to be a busy fool 

With toxic productivity in her sights, Christine Armstrong – researcher, vlogger and author – unpicked the harmful and often counterproductive tendencies that eventually lead to burnout. Drawing on her previous in-agency experience, Christine said: “You have to have a plan – the waves of muddy sludge are just going to come at you and the people that get through have a plan. They are brave in saying no”. Her resounding advice is to “stop reading toxic productivity magic hat bullshit” and realise that “being happy isn’t an accident… it’s something that we can choose to go and find rather than just crashing through life.”


  • Reclaim good through marketing

“84% of consumers buy based on their values” explained Good-Loop’s Amy Williams but, in a world that often feels increasingly polarised, marketers are split as to whether brands should take a stance and communicate their values. According to Kantar’s research, 40% feel that they should and 40% feel they shouldn’t. However, while a vocal ‘Get Woke, Go Broke’ movement is urging consumers to boycott brands it deems ‘woke’, Amy shared the findings of a five-year study showing that brands that communicate ESG values on their packaging sell more. “I think that you go broke if you don’t engage on these issues,” she said, urging brands to work out “what it means to be authentically good within your own brand values.”


  • We all have the same stake 

With the race to No.10 ratcheting up, LBC drivetime presenter, Tom Swarbrick, explained why he “bloody loves elections” and drew on his experience as an advisor to Theresa May during her premiership to discuss two key subjects influencing the electorate: the economy and immigration. He pointed out that the past five Conservative Prime Ministers haven’t reduced immigration despite promising to, saying: “Whatever your views [on immigration], that does something to a weary electorate if you don’t deliver on your promises.”


Meanwhile, the question of economic growth remains central: “The reality is that the same question has existed since 2008: how does this country get growth of more than 0.1% a quarter? More than 1% a year?” Taking a step back, Tom urged delegates to be part of the national conversation and listen to people with different views, pointing to radio as a vital forum for this. “I take hundreds of calls from people every day that have different views, but exactly the same stake in what is about to happen.”


  • Young people are driving trust in ads

“I joined the Advertising Association in 2017 when trust was on the slide”, explained the AA’s Chief Executive Stephen Woodford, recalling a time when advertising was cited as less trustworthy than estate agents or politicians. The good news is that’s no longer the case. According to Credos’ latest research, trust in advertising is increasing and “change is being driven by young people” as trust in influencer, online and social media ads see the biggest upticks since 2021. Discussing the emergence of this generational divide, Stephen made the point that “if you’re young then your ad experience has been formed in a digital world”. He also cited the ASA’s public-facing campaign as a contributing factor to the uptick in trust, and urged the industry to continue in the same vein by supporting the IAB’s Gold Standard.


  • Master the art of connection

71% have a need for human connection when it comes to media, explained Bauer Media’s Chief Content Officer Lucie Cave, with Simon Kilby, Managing Director of Bauer Media Advertising, adding: “ We [in radio]  pride ourselves on our ability to connect”. The pair were joined on stage by KISS Breakfast’s Jordan Banjo and Perri Kiely who shared how audio allows them to build a relationship with their audience. “You become part of someone’s routine”, Jordan explained, “[Audio] is so direct and it’s so personal”. Perri agreed, adding that while you don’t necessarily connect more deeply than via other media, you do connect in a different way: “We’re like that voice in people’s heads… [but] sometimes it feels like it’s just Jordan and I chatting between us.”


  • Naivety is our biggest weapon

Content creation, podcasting and building a brand from the ground up were all on the agenda as our CMO James Chandler sat down with Jamie Laing and Sophie Habboo to close Engage. Jamie – who founded gourmet vegan sweet company Candy Kittens in 2012 – explained that “it’s really important to think about the long game” and stay true to the vision for your brand when building a new company. For him, getting stocked in Waitrose was a turning point for Candy Kittens and vindication for not always following logic. “Naivety is our biggest weapon – that’s why Peter Pan is such a legend”, he explained. “ When you’re young you climb to the top of the tree and you have no fear… As you get older, you lose that naivety and that creativity [but] as a brand I would say lean into that risk.”


Meanwhile Sophie discussed the juxtaposition of curating content for social media with the “incredibly raw” content that has come out of NewlyWeds, which she described as “essentially a podcast about us bickering about getting married – and now being married”. As Jamie put it, the key to building a loyal following – whether for a podcast or social account – is “consistency and persistency… if you can create that in content then you’re on to something.”


Source: Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB UK)


About the IAB

IAB UK unites the digital advertising industry to champion innovation, set shared standards and make the complex simple by bringing together over 1,200 members from publishers, ad tech providers, agencies and brands. Learn more, here.


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