Close-Up: Adland issues rallying call against the lobbyists

By Noel Bussey, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 30 October 2009 12:00AM

The Advertising Association chief, Tim Lefroy, wants the industry to raise a £1.5 million defence kitty.

When a statistic says only 15 per cent of adults "generally trust advertising" - a business worth £18.6 billion that survives on convincing people to part with their cash - there might be problem.

In the view of the Advertising Association, it is a very serious problem, and one adland needs to tackle by opening its wallet.

In the past five years, there have been 125 new pieces of legislation controlling advertising and marketing freedoms and, possibly more serious, a host of lobby groups taking it in turns to castigate the industry for causing everything from binge-drinking to obesity.

In a bid to tackle this rising threat, the AA has instigated an initiative called Front Foot, which aims to raise between £1 million and £1.5 million from the industry to invest in ensuring it has the appropriate tools, such as readily available comprehensive research, to ensure it is better prepared to fight these savage and highly organised attacks.

Tim Lefroy, the chief executive of the AA, says: "The top six lobby groups attacking our industry share budgets of more than £50 million. Our industry association - supported by 27 trade bodies, has less than £2 million."

Through Front Foot, the association has outlined advantages it says it can attain if the right amount of funding is achieved.

These are: a new Knowledge Foundation where existing industry knowledge assets are trawled and marshalled; a research programme shaped by the Front Foot stakeholders; a new academic network/seed-funding for studies; galvanised industry networks; the production of an Innovation And Creativity Guide; and an improvement on measurement and accountability.

A number of advertisers, who at present wish to remain nameless, have already signed up and each will pay £50,000, while the AA is asking agencies to pay around £10,000.

Hamish Pringle, the director-general of the IPA, says: "At first, £50,000 doesn't seem like a huge amount of money but a client's first loyalty is to their own trade association - each one has market sector issues that it's fighting - so the AA is asking for extra cash from businesses that already spend a lot. However, if a big client has signed up to Front Foot, then I think its agencies will want to join in too."

There is a fear that smaller agencies might struggle to raise that sort of money, but the AA says that it will initially target the big agency groups and their very senior figures.

A leading industry source, however, questioned whether the agencies should pay anything at all: "It's the client's products that are causing such ire and, ultimately, its them that will benefit from a well-prepared advertising lobby group. Why should we pay when we're being squeezed from all sides already? It's an advertising tax for the greater good of advertising, so the advertisers should pay."

Lefroy says this is a short-sighted view: "Of course agencies have an economic interest in this - it's for the betterment of the entire industry, not just the clients. When you get all areas of the industry together, from the agency- to the client-side, you get a much better quality of debate. It's a big opportunity for agencies to get in a room and offer their collective point of view."

However, Pringle also warns that a pot of money and a sack of research will not work unless the AA hires a top-flight strategic planner.

"They would collate all the existing data, marshal the information that AA members have, enable the AA to be more proactive in tackling the key issues and commissioning its own reports," he says.

Lefroy asserts that this has been taken into account and that a strategist will take a place on the board of the think tank, which is in the process of being put together.

"We're forming a separate board from that of the AA to run Front Foot. It will be a faculty board of academics, researchers and industry professionals who will ensure quality and keep everything to an ethical standard," he says.

At the moment, the creation of the think tank is still in its formative stages, but the AA is eager to put it to work and is planning to launch it in January. However, its first piece of research has not been chosen yet because Lefroy believes that its subject should be decided by the agencies and businesses funding it.

"It will most likely be looking at cross-media effects on different segments of society, but the details will be up to the members," he says.

Overall, the initiative is being applauded by the industry and clients alike. The pressure is now on the AA to make sure that the funding and support is used in the most effective way possible to ensure that the industry is protected from the increasingly savage attacks from lobbyists and governmental groups.

LOBBY GROUP ATTACKS AND THEIR RESEARCH

September 2009 - In a report called Under The Influence, the British Medical Association called for a comprehensive ban on alcohol advertising, sponsorship and promotions in an attempt to curb the binge-drinking culture. Its research claimed that 96 per cent of 13-year-olds were aware of alcohol advertising in some form or other.

July 2009 - Green Expectations: Consumers' Understanding Of Green Claims In Advertising was a study of 1,040 adults that found that two-thirds of consumers are not sure how to tell if claims made by companies advertising green products are true, and that the majority think that companies pretend to be green as an excuse to hike their prices.

March 2007 - Research by the consumer group Which? attacked the government for not finding "clear success criteria" when it came to tackling obesity through food advertising. The report condemned the lack of progress in restricting junk-food ads on TV.

February 2005 - Bart Simpson and Shrek were among the cartoon characters that came under fire from Which? after research claimed that 77 per cent of people thought that using children's animated favourites to promote foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt made it very difficult for parents to say no to their children when choosing what food to buy.

November 1997 - Despite a ban on tobacco advertising on TV, research by Cancer Research UK maintained that children were still being attracted to smoking through sponsorship of televised events. The research claimed that 12- and 13-year-old boys who watched tobacco-sponsored motor-racing events were 5.8 per cent more likely to take up smoking within a year than those boys who did not watch.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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