The Government’s decision to bring forward its ban on tobacco
advertising to this December has much to commend it. This was an issue
ad land was never going to win: the writing was on the wall for a
decade. It’s been noticeable that the industry’s bright stars knew that
and gave up fighting the inevitable.
But it should now be left behind, to clear the way for much more
important battles. Including one which is perfectly winnable. This is
whether Sweden will be able to use the presidency of the EU in 2001 and
extend its national ban on TV advertising to children under 12
introduced in 1991 across the entire area.This proposal has roused
opponents from a wide set of interests, including operators of dedicated
children’s TV channels such as Nickelodeon.
Much now depends on the skill with which the industry plays its cards. A
ban is a pretty drastic step, a departure from 44 years of commercial
television custom and practice.
As an initial preparation, advertisers and agencies must exercise a
degree of common sense in the way children are targeted over the next
few years. But at the same time they should exude a sense of belief in
what they do: that communicating to children about goods for sale is no
bad thing. And they should also make sure, with on-screen messages, that
adults know such commercials are carefully pre-vetted.
At present there is no broad public outcry about advertisements in
children’s programmes - more a diffused feeling of unease among adults.
But lapses could change that. This is now an area where supporters of a
ban will pounce on bad practice and accuse the peddlers of expensive
toys, junk food or trainers of corrupting innocent minds.
The ITC’s most recent probe into public attitudes towards television -
including advertising - found that eight in ten people ’rarely or never’
found advertisements offensive, although a higher proportion of those
with children said they felt they had been misled.
The Institute of Practitioners in Advertisingthis week held public
debate on the ban at the House of Commons, in a bid to test the waters
and sharpen defences. It invited Lars Maren, the deputy director of the
Swedish Ministry of Culture to make his pitch, alongside Greg Philo from
the Glasgow Media Group, whose own research has found parents resented
What the advertising industry’s side of the argument lacked was a firm
belief in what they do. Younger agency executives sounded guilty about
They must shake off the mindset fostered by losing the tobacco
It doesn’t have to be the thin end of the wedge. Advertising is part of
life, a force children will have to harness and deal with for the rest
of their lives even if, as adults, they go to live in Sweden.