Close-Up: Election Insight - What the Labour Party thinks about advertising

In the first of a two-part interview in our new election series, Campaign asks the Culture Secretary, Ben Bradshaw, what the advertising industry can expect from Labour Party policy if the Government retains power after this year's election.

Whether you think that three Labour terms of government have been good for the advertising industry probably has as much to do with your personal politics as the way that the Party has impacted on the business.

But as the next election approaches, Ben Bradshaw tells Campaign what a fourth term might mean for the ad industry.

Tell us, Mr Bradshaw, can the ad industry expect anything new from Labour if you win the next election?

In terms of media regulation, we have to move with the times and be flexible. We've tried to reflect that with Digital Britain, and Ofcom is reflecting that in the recommendations of the deregulation of local media ownership, which we will implement.

But it must be a light touch intervention and regulation. In terms of proportion of GDP, our advertising industry is number one internationally and that's a position I want to retain and build on.

So I hope that we would continue to combine a strong commitment to intervention in the industry where intervention is necessary.

And in contrast to the Conservatives, we recognise that there are certain public goods - universal broadband, regional news on ITV - that the market left on its own simply will not deliver and our digital and creative economies will suffer.

Can you give us any reassurance that there won't be further restrictions on advertising freedoms?

Well, I don't think it's realistic for anybody to be able to predict what may happen in the future. Ten years ago, we wouldn't have predicted the level of public concern about obesity, for example, which has led to changes in what kind of advertising we find acceptable, specifically towards children.

Any government has to be free to respond to those sorts of issues. But I think we try to do it working with the advertising industry in a way that is proportionate and fair. A Labour government will continue to take a constructive but proportionate line because we welcome very much the wealth-creating role that the advertising industry plays.

One of the reasons I changed the Government's position on product placement is because I don't want to be in a position where we're putting our creative businesses at a competitive disadvantage. But we also have to face up to serious health issues. It's not in anyone's interest if as a society we're incurring massive costs because of bad diet, lack of exercise, alcohol abuse. It's about getting the balance right.

What role do you think advertising plays in issues such as unhealthy lifestyles and alcohol abuse?

Well, I think it's significant in a very positive way. We're spending a lot of public money at the moment on advertising with the Change4Life campaign, which has been hugely successful, led by the advertising industry with our support. So the advertising industry has a dual role. People in the advertising sector are parents too and they want an advertising sector that is responsible and sensitive to public concerns.

But we have to make sure that we don't allow ourselves to be unduly restrictive because of undue concerns or an exaggerated view of what particular restrictions might be able to deliver.

There is a growing recognition in government and among policy formers that some of the big challenges that we face as a society are about behavioural change - climate change, obesity - and they provide a huge opportunity for the advertising industry that shouldn't been seen as a threat for the advertising industry. It's possible for advertising to be a force for good and a force for bad.

The Tories seem keen that the ad industry should strive to encapsulate family values in its work. Do you think advertising has a moral responsibility to present positive family values in its work?

Well, no. I would strongly disagree with David Cameron if he was preaching traditional family values - whatever that means.

I think that's rather a depressing retreat from his earlier modernising agenda. It's not the role of advertising to uphold an old-style, back-to-basics moralising agenda. But if you're asking does advertising have a responsibility to support good values and decent behaviour, then yes.

Should the Government do more to support the ad business as a global leader in creative services?

We're trying to do more stuff on education, on post-graduate training, on creative apprenticeships, with the Future Jobs Fund investing in skills and technology, which I think will help the industry.

I'm old mates with Stephen Carter (Labour's former chief of strategy and a one-time chief executive of JWT), so we had a very useful exchange of views when I came into this job. We recognise the importance of the creative sector and that advertising is part of that sector, not out there separate just because it's commercial. It's a very important contributor to the success and diversity and health of our democratic media landscape.

And do you recognise advertising as an important driver of the economy as a whole?

Oh yeah. Hugely. We are still by a long way the most important advertising market in Europe and it's a very important part of this 8 per cent of our economy that is the creative economy, which makes us number one in the world. And that's something we should celebrate and not do anything to jeopardise or damage.

It's one of the reasons why our businesses and industries are successful internationally and long may that continue.

The Tories have suggested that they would cut COI's advertising budget. Is Labour planning to do the same?

I think that would be a dreadful mistake. As I said earlier, I think you can point to countless campaigns - on climate change, on obesity, on smoking, on alcohol - where the amount expended on the campaign has been massively, massively outweighed by the public benefit and the money therefore saved to us as a society as a whole.

You always have to make your case in any department in any pitch, and at a time when resources are not going to be as plentiful as they have been we need to be cannier about what we do and what we spend money on. But in all of the jobs I've done where we've commissioned campaigns, they have invariably more than paid back their cost in terms of the value that they provided for the Government and for the public.

What do you think of the Labour Party's own advertising?

(Bradshaw is a little hesitant here. It's clear that he's far from familiar with some of the party's recent advertising activity, despite significant press coverage.) In the end, it will be the policies that count. The posters are interesting and useful, I'm sure, but it's having the right policies that will win us the General Election.

So, Ben, what's your favourite ad?

Hmmm. (long pause) Of all time? (longer pause) The ads that will always stick in my mind are the HIV Aids ads with the iceberg. They were so dramatic and really turned the tide in terms of public perceptions and government support.

I'm trying to think of something more recently that's grabbed me. Er. Erm. (excruciatingly long pause) Oh, erm, the one ...

I don't know who did it ...

on ...

act on CO2, part of the Government's Act on CO2 campaign, it's actually rather scary and it's got some complaints from parents ...

it's a child asking about climate change ...

basically it is a climate change one and about what will happen if we don't do anything on climate change.

I thought that was a very powerful one.

Next week: Bradshaw on media.

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