MEDIA: The tobacco ban is not the end all for advertisers

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.

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

toy advertising.



What the advertising industry’s side of the argument lacked was a firm

belief in what they do. Younger agency executives sounded guilty about

targeting children.



They must shake off the mindset fostered by losing the tobacco

debate.



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.



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