A view from Maisie McCabe

For adland, another political battle brews

Despite finishing on the losing side once all the Brexit votes were counted, the ad industry is well-placed to negotiate a better outcome on obesity....

As Harold Wilson once said, a week is a long time in politics. As a prime minister with a small majority who had made a referendum on Europe a manifesto commitment ahead of an election he didn’t necessarily expect to win, Wilson might have had some sympathy for David Cameron over the past month.

With Boris Johnson – a man who has revelled in offending world leaders – installed as foreign secretary and Cameron and his chancellor pushed to the backbenches, the government feels very different. That it does is a remarkable feat given prime minister Theresa May (is that rolling off the tongue yet?) has dipped into the same ministerial pond Cameron has been fishing in since taking office six years ago. 

If the referendum was added to the Conservative manifesto to appease the right of his party, the childhood obesity strategy appears to have been included because it was something Cameron felt strongly about personally. Sources told us last week that he was intending to push ahead and publish the proposals while the leadership election took its course. But the crumbling of Andrea Leadsom’s campaign meant that he was out of No 10 quicker than anyone expected.  

The new government had just eight days to get the cogs of the Brexit machine, under David Davis, spinning before the Houses of Parliament shut for summer recess today (Thursday). As Campaign went to press, the report had not been published but a story in The Times suggested the food and drinks lobby had successfully argued that a 9pm watershed for ads for food high in fat, sugar or salt was not needed.

Meanwhile, the Committee of Advertising Practice’s consultation on bringing non-broadcast rules in line with TV and radio closes tomorrow (Friday). The plans would restrict ads for HFSS food from advertising around non-broadcast media, such as videos on YouTube. Children’s health campaigners are pushing for greater restrictions and protested outside the CAP offices last week dressed as Tony the Tiger and Peppa Pig as part of a campaign to stop food brands using or co-opting characters that are appealing to children.

As a part of the economy that serves both sides of the debate, working for charities and Public Health England as well as food and drink brands, the advertising industry is perfectly placed to give an objective viewpoint on all of this. Everyone expects the food and drink industry to resist restrictions and children’s health campaigners to ask for more. As one of the few survivors of Cameron’s top team, Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, might be expected to continue his former boss’ mission.

Either way, we’re unlikely to see a week as long as the last one. The ad industry should use this extra time to continue to argue for its proactive but evidence-based approach.