Claire Beale: Advertising is still not to blame for society's ills
A view from Claire Beale

Claire Beale: Advertising is still not to blame for society's ills

No-one who works in advertising needs me to point out how misguided, pernicious even, the article was in last week's British Medical Journal attacking alcohol ads.

With wearying predictability, Professor Gerard Hastings and Dr Nick Sheron seized on advertising as the reason why the UK has one of the highest levels of binge-drinking among school children in Europe. Alcohol abuse among young people here was set against levels in France, where alcohol consumption has been falling for decades, thanks in part (it's argued) to stringent alcohol advertising restrictions imposed by the Loi Evin law.

There's a fair amount of pressure for the terms of Loi Evin to be adopted throughout Europe. So you should know that it includes a ban on all alcohol advertising targeting young people, no alcohol ads on TV or in cinemas, alcohol sponsorship of all sporting and cultural events is prohibited and ads must include a message that alcohol abuse is dangerous to health. The BMJ article contrasted the Loi Evin with the "clumsily imposed self-regulatory codes" we have in the UK. Our UK ad codes might not always be perfect, and the screening processes are not infallible, but clumsily imposed they are not. And one thing they are very clear on is alcohol advertising and children: booze ads must not be directed at children or in any way designed to appeal to them.

Yet, again, the ad industry has become the focus of a social problem, the causes of which are deeper and much more complex than marketing. The industry, through the Advertising Association and the forces at ISBA and the IPA, is doing a much better job of defending itself from such attacks. But the fact that they keep coming, and are treated seriously enough to get to a Commons reading (see right), proves how much harder the industry needs to fight.

Waitrose is clearly a very loyal client. Its ad business resided at Banks Hoggins O'Shea for seven years before slipping into How, the agency formed by Ken Hoggins and Chris O'Shea, and then following the duo when How merged into Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy in 2005. This week, the account is preparing to move into the start-up Now, but the team working on the business - still including Hoggins - is moving with it.

Again the name of Waitrose's ad agency is changing, yet again its team and its advertising principles appear to remain gloriously unruffled and sure. And this despite the wonderfully determined efforts of some of adland's best new-business brains to winkle the business out. I hope that Now's combination of the old (in the form of the existing Waitrose team) and the new (in the form of a provocative start-up) can keep the relationship going because the industry needs as many examples of faithful, supportive clients as it can get.

claire.beale@haymarket.com