The Government has called for tighter controls on the use of children in
advertising after 26 MPs complained about overtones of paedophilia in
the Bates Dorland ‘Harry meets Molly’ commercial for Safeway.
Consider these facts: this was one spot out of more than 70 ads in the
series since October 1994; it was on air for only four days; and the
campaign has twice been voted the most popular ad in Campaign’s People’s
Given that the Independent Television Commission, in its May ruling, did
not uphold the 19 consumer complaints against the ad, it is hard to
avoid the conclusion that there is another agenda driving the
Tony Banks, the Labour MP who has led the attack on Safeway (Campaign,
last week), has been less than enthusiastic to hear the agency’s
arguments. As he appears neither to want to ban nor to understand the
campaign, we must conclude that he has taken the opportunity for some
pre-election politicking. Advertising, once again, has become a whipping
boy for politicians.
No-one in the industry would argue against advertising’s clear
responsibility to protect the vulnerable in society. Few people
complained last year, for example, when public opinion in the US led to
the withdrawal of ads for Calvin Klein jeans, which featured young
models in provocative poses.
But the Safeway’s ad, with its gentle humour, is clearly different. The
ITC has ruled that consumer reaction to the ad is more a matter of
personal taste than of harming or exploiting children. Perhaps Banks
should produce some evidence for his advertising-as-bogeyman theory.
Until then, neither Safeway nor Dorlands has anything to apologise for.
The Advertising Association deserves full marks for its continuing
programme to educate Labour on what advertising can and cannot do, but
this episode shows that it has much work to do.