Agencies being careful not to get their fingers burnt
A view from Jeremy Lee

Agencies being careful not to get their fingers burnt

Fortunately, questions of morality (payday loan companies aside) are not ones that agencies face with regularity given how tightly regulated the industry is and that it is run largely by ethically responsible people.

And given that it only takes the most minor or inadvertent deviation from the po-faced liberal consensus (such as showing a dog that is housed outside) for some ludicrous pressure group to quickly cook up an anti-advertising shitstorm on social media, this is clearly a good thing.

The advertising industry has enough enemies as it is accusing it of simultaneously encouraging antisocial behaviour, promoting sloth, making kids fat and encouraging eating disorders. It therefore spends a disproportionate amount of time ensuring no perceived slights are allowed to be generated or fuelled and fighting off claims from those who are unable to take responsibility for their own actions but seek someone else to blame.

But chugging furtively on a ciggy in a doorway with a planner and a suit like one of three errant schoolchildren, I reflected on an earlier conversation I’d had about whether or not it was right for an agency to refuse the advances of an e-cigarette brand that wanted help with its advertising. Obviously, the agency was entirely within its rights to choose whichever business it wanted to work on (it also refuses to work on online gambling for similar reasons). But is there a moral dimension to this particular sector that puts agencies off or makes them more fearful for their corporate reputations?

Agencies are showing remarkable self-restraint by declining to deal with a regulatory Wild West

Smoking is not a terribly fashionable – or, as any fule kno, healthy – thing to do, but I struggle to disagree with the playwright Dennis Potter, who described cigarettes as "little tubes of delight". Decades of research have highlighted the dangers and smokers participate at their own risk (as did Potter, who sadly died of cancer, of course).

E-cigarettes, on the other hand, are a relatively new phenomenon for which the Advertising Standards Authority (as well as the European Union) seemed unprepared. While ASA codes are clear that tobacco products cannot be advertised and that ads that do refer to smoking must not appeal to children or, in the case of e-cigarettes, claim to be a cessation aid, it’s still a regulatory grey area. And so we have the situation where ads have been banned for breaching aspects of the existing codes but which should probably have never been approved in the first place.

In the meantime, e-cigarette ads are ubiquitous and the sale of them seems unregulated while the health risks remain unknown. In which case, agencies are showing remarkable self-restraint in turning down a quick buck by declining to deal with a regulatory Wild West that would not be unfamiliar to the Marlboro man himself.