Perspective - Why adland must learn from the junk-food adban

You're probably toxic with too much junk-food thinking after Ofcom's ruling last week. But I make no apologies for adding to the overload by picking over the issues some more; no-one is in any doubt of the significance of the ruling for advertising freedoms.

After almost five years of lobbying and consultation, the ad industry has lost the crucial battle over junk-food TV advertising. So after a week of hand-wringing and soul-searching, what next?

Well, the obvious answer is more of the same. Now TV has been kicked into touch, press, posters and the internet are likely to come under scrutiny in the Government's fat-fighting crusade.

The Department of Health is already way down the road considering where to strike next and it's imperative that media owners beyond TV now leap into action and step up their campaign. It would be ridiculous for the Government to institute such controversial measures on television if the result is simply a greater proportion of junk-food advertising in other media. So non-broadcast media can expect to come under real pressure over the issue and they need to come out fighting.

This means adding their full voice to the industry response to the ruling (the deadline for which is mid-December) and boosting their own sensible measures to monitor and manage junk-food advertising in their media so that it is handled responsibly and balanced by positive healthy eating messages.

All of which will probably make zero impact. The junk-food battle is already lost, of course. That's not the point, though. The writing might already be indelibly written on the wall but press owners, internet companies and poster contractors cannot afford to simply shrug their shoulders and accept restrictions as inevitable. Unless the ad industry as a whole is seen to be fighting this through to the bitter end, the chances of defending other freedoms, such as the right to advertise booze, will diminish.

Because the real concern now is how big the rest of the wedge is: how many other product sectors will now come under attack from the pressure groups. There's absolutely no doubt that the focus will soon shift to which other advertising categories are corrupting the nation; the relative success of the food pressure groups will add further grist to those intent on curbing alcohol advertising or all advertising to children.

All parties within the advertising, media and marketing industries must now work together to deploy the learnings from the junk-food saga and marshal their forces for subsequent rounds.

This is not a time for licking wounds and crying foul; it's a time for laying the ground work to ensure that a junk-food ad ban is as bad as it gets.

While no-one doubts the power of a brilliant TV ad, the multiple threats to advertising freedoms, particularly on TV, throw a fresh focus on new ways of interacting with consumers.

As Ivan Pollard's piece on page 18 beautifully illustrates, word-of-mouth, blogging, user-generated content and peer recommendations can amplify brand communication well beyond the effects achievable with a TV ad.

Influencing these consumer communications is another thing altogether, though. When I had my daughter at the end of last year, push-chair, high-chair, cot and car seat were all chosen on the basis of recommendations on mumsnet from other mothers. Forget advertising. And in some cases I'd never heard of the brands I was purchasing, but trusted the views of my peers; I wasn't disappointed.

Of course, as soon as a brand is seen to attempt to manipulate this sort of recommendation, it risks commercial suicide. But for advertisers that can work out how to play the game, the rewards are obvious and potentially extremely cost-effective.

- claire.beale@haynet.com.

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