CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/PRE-EMPTING AD CURBS; Industry opens new fronts in battle to beat bans

By MICHELE MARTIN, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 10 November 1995 12:00AM

Advertisers are taking on the lobbyists at their own game.

Advertisers are taking on the lobbyists at their own game.



Proof that the advertising industry is fighting an all-out war on its

borders came last week in the shape of two very different offensives.



In Brussels, European tobacco interests began rolling out the heavy

artillery with a symposium to defend Europe from a blanket tobacco

advertising ban. The European Association of Advertising Agencies’

meeting is a last-ditch attempt to persuade Eurocrats to change strategy

before lawyers are forced to take the industry’s claims to the European

Court of Human Rights instead (Campaign, last week).



Meanwhile, a rather more covert attack was launched in the UK, with the

Advertising Association preparing for guerrilla warfare against food

advertising lobbyists. Through its newly launched food advertising unit,

the AA is masterminding its own version of a propaganda leaflet drop

with a booklet telling parents how to help their children decode

advertising messages. The initiative is intended to fight pressure

groups such as the National Food Alliance calling for bans on

advertising to children (Campaign, also last week.)



The difference between the two approaches encapsulates the changes being

forced on the industry today by the increasing threat of ad bans. Not so

long ago, strategies such as the AA’s would have been a standard

response from an industry built on self-regulation.



But the fact that the tobacco lobby has raised its game in recent months

is a sign that the fight is getting dirtier. PR consultants and creative

teams are being sidelined in favour of lawyers and political lobbyists.



Nick Phillips, director general of the Institute of Practitioners in

Advertising, sums up the current situation when he says: ‘You must never

lose sight of political lobbying because the balance of influencing

legislation has swung in Europe’s direction.’ Peter Waterman, vice-

president of corporate affairs at the toy manufacturer, Hasbro, adds: ‘I

don’t think you have to use consumer PR to mount an effective campaign.’



The reason for the changes in advertisers’ strategy is two-fold. Most

significant is the fact that the European parliament and its off-shoots

are producing more draft legislation that threatens advertising than

ever before. The trend is so marked that the AA has begun a quarterly

monitoring exercise called the Commercial Communications Censorship

study, which lists the sectors most under threat. The first table showed

the tobacco industry as most vulnerable, followed by sweets and soft

drinks, toys and slimming products.



The second prompt comes from pressure groups learning how to use the

European framework to best advantage. An association such as Consumers

International, representing consumer groups worldwide, including the

Consumers’ Association in the UK, is typical. Michael O’Connor, director

for developed economies, explains: ‘Trading across borders means we’re

going to standardise legislation and harmonisation will challenge the

British way of doing things through voluntary agreement. There is going

to be debate and the best debate will win.’



Response from the better-organised advertising concerns has been to prepare for the challenge. Phillips says that representative bodies of

European advertising and marketing associations, such as Fedim and EAAA,

have pulled their socks up ‘because members have demanded that they be

kept informed. Associations have had to link up to monitoring systems

and hire lobbyists.’



Industries have also had to become more professional in direct

representation. In 1990, toy companies such as Hasbro, Mattel and Lego

formed the Toy Manufacturers of Europe association. With a Brussels

office of 30-40 staff on release from individual companies, the TME

concentrates its efforts on the European parliament with help from the

lobby company, European Strategy. As Waterman says: ‘Influencing public

opinion in individual countries is potentially difficult and expensive.

We don’t do it because we can’t spread ourselves widely enough.’



The comment reveals what national pressure groups have been learning for

some time - if you are going to press your case at local level at all,

superficial PR is not enough. Proof comes from the Portman Group, set up

in 1989 by the UK’s leading drinks companies to promote sensible

drinking through education, supporting government initiatives and

industry policing. It has gained credibility through its strategy of

‘owning the problem’, because, as Andrew Chevis, director of public

affairs, comments: ‘This was never just a two- or three-year PR

exercise.’



The AA’s food unit seems set to embark on a similarly rigorous strategy.

With the emphasis on educating parents to help their children, the unit

wants to raise the standard of debate to an intelligent level. Lionel

Stanbrook, director of political affairs at the AA, says: ‘I’d rather

have proper debate about research than a manipulative PR exercise.’

Though even here, Jenina Bas, the unit’s manager, admits: ‘Consumer

communication needs to be done in hand with political lobbying.’



The acknowledgment is one more sign that the industry is coming of age

in the battle to defend its territory. Compelling argument, high-level

organisation and contacts are what will count in the battle of the bans.

The gentler arts of persuasion are something that advertisers will have

to reserve for their brands from now on.



Leader, page 27



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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