PERSPECTIVE: Shops should see tobacco ad ban as their ultimate test

I suppose I could devote this column to an erudite discussion about the pros and cons of the Government’s proposed ban last week on tobacco advertising and sponsorship. But I won’t. However much the tobacco manufacturers and ad industry lobbyists may protest about infringing the right to freedom of commercial speech, I think we can safely say that that particular phase of the war is over.

I suppose I could devote this column to an erudite discussion about

the pros and cons of the Government’s proposed ban last week on tobacco

advertising and sponsorship. But I won’t. However much the tobacco

manufacturers and ad industry lobbyists may protest about infringing the

right to freedom of commercial speech, I think we can safely say that

that particular phase of the war is over.



But as one front closes down, so others will open up, and it is these

new areas that will pose fascinating challenges to the ad industry as a

whole.



For years - well, since the early 90s - agencies and media buyers have

banged on about how they’re really in the communications or media

solutions business, of which advertising is just a part, and how their

real role is to provide the client with top-level strategic advice. Now,

at last, thanks to the tobacco ban, they have a chance to put this

theory into practice.



That is because, if I can put it this way, tobacco companies no longer

have an advertising problem, but a communications one, and a big one at

that. If ever there was a type of client calling out for a ’total media

solution’, it is the tobacco companies. If ever there was a chance for

agencies to claim the intellectual high ground (if we can call it that

in the context of tobacco) and beat off the challenge from management

consultants and the like who are sniping at the agencies’ position, this

is it.



Let us assume, and I think we are fairly safe on this one, that the

pounds 60 million to pounds 75 million that the tobacco companies have

spent annually on sponsorship and traditional press and poster

advertising will be redirected into other areas. Who better then to give

advice on what to do and how to spend it than agencies or media buyers?

It is, of course, one of the paradoxes that, far from marginalising

agencies, the advertising and sponsorship ban actually gives them the

chance to rise higher up the tree.



You can imagine the process. ’OK guys, the party’s over. What do we do

now?’ the tobacco marketing director asks. ’How much do we stick into

direct mail, how much do we spend on promotions and special offers?

Should we have a customer magazine? What about new media such as the

Internet? We know Marlboro and Dunhill have developed clothes and luxury

goods ranges, now can we do the same? How do we get our database into

shape as fast as possible?’



And so it goes. And at the end of the list of options lies one big

question: how is all this activity unified and integrated and, most

importantly, how (and what should it be anyway) do we keep our brand

proposition?



Disagree if you will, but it is hard to think of a more stimulating

intellectual challenge than for an agency to work out the solution to

these problems.



Oh, and while the agency’s at it, it might as well see if it can come up

with an answer for the alcopops companies.



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