Ever since the days of snake-oil salesmen, advertising has been a
useful repository in which to dump the sins of the world.
From charges of encouraging a nation of junk-food junkies to producing a
generation of besieged parents forced to submit to their children’s
every demand, the industry gets it in the neck every time.
Indeed, it’s still possible - even in these days of supposed almost
universal advertising literacy - to hear its exponents cast as seducers,
forcing people to buy products they don’t want at prices they can’t
Small wonder the industry gets a bit paranoid. Having been accused for
so long of creating thousands of children who are overweight but
undernourished because of a diet of sweets and crisps, it is now in the
dock for increasing anorexia among young women by presenting
emaciated-looking models as fashion icons.
Leaping aboard a popular bandwagon, the Government now proposes a summit
meeting with figures from media and fashion to discuss whether or not
young women are under too much pressure to be thin.
The Advertising Association is rightly concerned that the industry
should not have to carry the can for a social problem that has a whole
range of complex causes.
Government ministers are no different from many others in their
simplistic belief that advertising has almost magical powers of
persuasion. Nor do they necessarily understand that advertising doesn’t
set trends but follows them. Meanwhile, the prospect of the Department
of Trade and Industry forcing model agencies to use people with ’normal’
body shapes beggars belief.
This isn’t to trivialise the seriousness of anorexia or to absolve
advertising of its responsibility not to encourage it. The repulsive
’put some weight on’ national press and poster campaign for Accurist
watches was correctly condemned as irresponsible by the Advertising
Standards Authority two years ago.
But while the ad industry has been generally effective in curbing such
creative overstepping of the mark, the same can’t be said of teen
magazines or the fashion industry, whose influences are much more
profound and whose excesses are far more common.
It is there, rather than among advertisers, that the Government may find
more likely culprits.