CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/PROPOSED EU DISTANCE-SELLING DIRECTIVE; Ad industry lobbies against new EU selling curbs

John Tylee considers what advertising fears about a distance-selling directive

John Tylee considers what advertising fears about a distance-selling


The defining moment in last week’s debate by Euro MPs on the evils of

distance selling came when a German member complained that she had

arrived home to find 15 advertising messages on her answerphone.

In Britain, it’s unlikely anybody has been subjected to such intrusion,

or is ever likely to be. But that will not stop this country from being

shackled by the proposed Europe-wide Distance Selling Directive

(Campaign, last week).

When EU legislators try to harmonise consumer protection controls across

the Continent it’s rarely a straightforward process. History and culture

vary enormously from state to state. Rules that make sense in one

country may upset a carefully balanced applecart elsewhere.

The reason why the German MEP’s tape was choked with unwanted sales

pitches is because of that country’s highly regulated consumer

protection system. With advertisers banned from using lists to profile

and target prospective customers, many resort to the scatter-gun


It means that German consumers receive up to five times more junk mail

than their UK counterparts.

‘It’s all the result of a worthy, but befuddled, attempt to protect

people’s rights,’ a senior UK ad industry lobbyist explains. ‘German

direct marketers are forced to leave a lot of messages because they

don’t get many shots at the target - and because they often don’t know

where the target is.’

So it’s not surprising that Ger-man politicians, raised on a diet of

strict regulation, are leading the charge towards straight-jacketing the

direct marketing industry and outlawing cold-calling.

But whether cross-border legislation is necessary to tackle what is,

essentially, a domestic problem is debatable. Certainly, all those

involved in what is generally regarded as a highly developed - and well

policed - direct marketing industry in Britain are aghast at the

possible wielding of the European sledgehammer.

What compounds the problem is the confusion within UK advertising and

marketing circles over whether or not last week’s meeting of the

environment, public health and consumer protection committee actually

demanded a ban on cold-calling.

‘Some people might say that if the ruling isn’t clear that must be

good,’ Philip Circus, legal affairs director of the Institute of

Practitioners in Advertising, says. ‘But if the industry isn’t sure

about what is and isn’t permissible then the threat of a total ban on

cold-calling becomes very real.’

The Direct Marketing Association has already warned that a ban on

telephone sales without previous face-to-face contact with a consumer

would make telemarketing virtually impossible.

DMA chiefs are pinning their hopes on the self-regulatory Telephone

Preference Service. Launched ten months ago, the TPS supplies lists of

people who don’t want to be cold-called. Eighty companies are

participating in the scheme, and 70,000 consumers have asked to go on

the list.

The European Publishers Council, which is petrified by the prospect of

being unable to use the phone to chase newspaper and magazine

subscriptions, forecasts ‘the death knell of the distance- selling

industry’ should the committee’s call win the backing of the European


Others take a more sanguine view. ‘I think the DMA and the EPC are

talking this one up,’ an industry source says. ‘I don’t blame them.

Members of trade bodies are notoriously lazy and slow to recognise the

implications of European legislation, so a little exaggeration may be

necessary at times.’

So what is it trying to do?

Lionel Stanbrook, political affairs director of Britain’s Advertising

Association, believes the EU isn’t targeting direct response TV ads, but

rather companies that try to close deals with customers during a single

phone call.

Although financial services companies would be subject to the rules, few

are getting worked up about it. Stephen Chipperfield, chief executive of

the specialist financial agency, Hill Murray, says: ‘If the ban covered

all calls - even those initiated by the customer - the effect would be

catastrophic. But telemarketing is no longer used by financial services

companies to set up deals. Those that did this have been discredited.’

That begs the question of why Europe’s advertising lobbyists have worked

themselves into a lather over an issue that may yet prove a damp squib.

Fear of a ‘domino effect’ is the obvious answer. If the amended rules on

distance selling are passed by the European Parliament on 11 December

without a fight, how long will it be before reformist MEPs renew their

assaults on alcohol and tobacco advertising? ‘We have to hold the line,’

Circus declares.

For European agencies and their clients, the latest row over distance

selling is seen as symbolic of the increasingly hostile climate in which

they operate. The threats are political and cultural and posed, in part,

by a European Parliament that has shown a growing tendency to intervene

as its power has increased.

The Spanish authorities, exasperated by their failure to stamp out

sexist ads, want the EU to do the job for them. Meanwhile, Germany wants

the EU to get tough on direct marketing. ‘It’s a problem for us,’

Stanbrook says. ‘But if I had 15 companies a day ringing me, I might

want a law passed too.’

Leader, p 25


EU versus industry position on advertising


Issue                Status                     Industry position

Tobacco              No Europe-wide ban yet,    Growing support for

                     but health ministers       industry initiative to

                     meeting to review          test the legality of

                     situation on Thursday      any EU ad ban in Euro


Alcohol              Various statutory          No evidence to show ad

                     restrictions. Toughest     ban would affect

                     controls in France. No     overall consumption

                     plans for curbs at

                     Euro level

Broadcast Directive  No major restrictions on   Support for a

review               ads proposed. May tighten  directive, but fear

                     Euro quota restrictions    ministers may restrict

                     for shows                  ads in return for

                                                relaxing quota rules

Toy advertising      Heavy restrictions or      Ban on TV toy ads

                     bans during kids’ TV       would lead to poor

                     shows in most states.      quality kids’ shows

                     Pressure for more curbs    and, possibly, their


Sexual stereotyping  Spain, with the current    No legislation can

                     EU presidency, is calling  enforce sexual equality

                     for action to outlaw       and EU should not

                     sexual stereotyping        interfere

Comparative          Allowed in 11 EU states,   Concern over moves by

advertising          including the UK. Banned   Spain to prohibit them

                     in four other countries    in some professional

                                                sectors, e.g. law

Credit marketing     Euro Commission            Danger too much

                     considering new code of    statutory detail in ads

                     conduct for credit ads     is unnecessary and

                     targeted at young people   blunting its effect

Commercial           Commission Green Paper     Lobbying needed to

communications       expected to be published   support cause of free

                     by the end of this year    and responsible

                                                commercial speech

Self-regulation      Well established in        Vigilance needed to

                     the UK. Patchy in the      ensure growth and good

                     other states within        relationship with

                     the EU                     statutory controls

Food claims          Commission considering     Existing controls are

                     proposals to tighten up    already sufficient and

                     claims made in food ads    no further action is




CAM # 01:12:95


old brand fashionable?





Photograph (omitted)

Harriet Green investigates how two agencies plan to rescue Spam and


Take your pick from a few daunting tasks: hold the globe on your

shoulders until the end of time, slay the Hydra, make Martini

fashionable again, or do the same for Spam. Atlas and Hercules landed

the first two tasks some years ago; the others are now with Howell Henry

Chaldecott Lury and Advertising Principles respectively (Campaign, last


The flagging 70s aperitif returns to TV and cinema screens with a

commercial that poses a challenge to viewers: are they sufficiently hip

and good-looking to handle this product? Spam, the butt of countless

jokes about fritters and school dinners, appointed Advertising

Principles in the hope of transforming chopped pork and ham into a

serious premium product.

It’s not the first time Spam has tried to raise its image with

advertising. In 1993 Bates Dorland coined the slogan ‘Wham! Bam! Thank

you Spam!’ in a bid to encourage modern mums to consider Spam as a

healthy alternative to other convenience foods.

But Spam has one big problem - although its owner, Newforge Foods,

claims it provides a healthy meal, the public still believes

otherwise. The entire canned chopped-meat sector is in decline. Is

advertising enough to revive a forgotten product, or are some brands

better left resting in peace?

Rob Lucas, Newforge’s marketing manager, is talking tough: ‘Spam hasn’t

lost its way completely. The chopped pork-and-ham sector is in decline.

But we don’t intend to go down with it.’

Lucas aims to stress the versatility of Spam with a pounds 500,000 TV

campaign addressing its core audience of C2, D, and E housewives with

young children. ‘Spam is the ideal sandwich filling,’ he enthuses. ‘And

it’s great for stir-frying.’

But many in the industry doubt advertising can help Spam. Rupert Howell,

managing partner at HHCL, the agency charged with Martini’s rebirth,

thinks Spam should save its cash. ‘I wouldn’t spend money on advertising

at all. I would bribe someone like Delia Smith or Sainsbury’s to endorse

it,’ he advises. ‘There’s no point [advertising] if the product is

perceived as passe. I’m not sure you could change Spam’s image with a

pounds 10 million ad budget. It’s a cliche, but nothing kills a bad

product better than good advertising.’

Advertising Principles, not surprisingly, disagrees. Its new-business

manager, Phil Hesketh, explains that the advertising will not alienate

current users. ‘Spam may be unfashionable to the people who write about

it, but they are not typical of the socio-economic group that eats it.

About one million housewives buy Spam on a regular basis and it’s not

unfashionable to them.’

And Hesketh insists Spam has many positive associations: ‘When you say

‘Spam’, people smile. They don’t smile if you say ‘BT’ or ‘Sky’. People

remember cutting shapes out of it at school - but that’s not really


Howell believes that Martini has positive associations too. He explains:

‘It has a quality reputation and perception. And in taste tests people

still really like the drink.’

Howell admits that Martini’s image had become tacky - epitomised by

mustachioed hunks with chest wigs jumping in and out of speed boats all

over the place. But in most people’s minds, he insists, the brand is

remembered as ‘fun’.

He explains: ‘With Martini it’s a classic case of nudging something

negative into a positive. Martini’s problem was that it was seen as

being too populist. The trick is not to chuck the baby out with the bath

water.’ The latest advertising has chucked the chest wig out but still

plays on Martini’s glamorous, good-time image - using the line ‘the

beautiful drink’.

Martini will hope for better success than that other ‘good-time’ drink,

Babycham, which relaunched with a pounds 7.5 million budget in 1993.

Dubbed ‘project sparkle’, the relaunch started with an extensive

research programme. This revealed 98 per cent awareness of the brand -

but also showed that most people felt that ordering a glass of Babycham

in their local was naff.

The package was redesigned, the frolicking deer was killed off and the

recipe tweaked. Bartle Bogle Hegarty created a stylish TV and cinema ad

that was a major departure from the romantic image Babycham had carried

in the 80s.

But BBH’s efforts did not recruit significant numbers of new Babycham

drinkers. And sadly, all anyone remembers is Saatchi and Saatchi’s cool

dude spouting the unforgettable line: ‘Hey, I’d lerve a Babycham.’

One relaunch which enjoyed greater success was for Skoda. The Czech car

company ran its first TV campaign last year through GGK (now Doner

Cardwell Hawkins). It used the line, ‘We’ve changed the car, can you

change your minds?’, and focused on the car’s VW parentage. Sales

soared, according to Paul Cardwell, Doner Cardwell’s creative director.

Cardwell believes it would have been suicide to dump the Skoda name and

pretend the crappy associations hadn’t existed: ‘We had to meet the

problems head on. There is no point pretending that the Beatles are a

new group.’

Cardwell maintains the trick was to advertise to the existing users who

loved the product’s functional simplicity: ‘It would be humiliating to

end up like a Gary Glitter product - crap, kitschy rubbish.’

So the secret seems to be - don’t aim too high. Products may be

retrieved, brand awareness may be lifted and sales figures may rocket.

But some products can never be fashionable.

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