Editorial: Ad industry has to grab the initiative next year

It didn't come gift-wrapped, but it was still a welcome Christmas present that the Public Health Minister, Dawn Primarolo, delivered to the ad industry last week.

In a letter to Baroness Peta Buscombe, the Advertising Association's chief executive, she intimates the Government is keen to work with the industry to seek solutions to Britain's obesity crisis. Good news indeed. It suggests that the Government will not be railroaded by health lobbyists into tightening the screws still further on food advertising before the latest rules have been given a fair chance.

Coming in the wake of the Government-backed Foresight study on obesity, which suggests a lack of any firm evidence that advertising is fuelling the problem, Primarolo's pledge holds out hope the tide can be held back. But it will be some time before it can be turned. And not without a sustained, united effort by advertisers, agencies and media owners.

Last year saw the industry come under relentless attack from pressure groups. Next year holds out little prospect of any let-up. In fact, adland may have to defend itself across a broad range of fronts as gaming advertising becomes more widespread, and concern about binge drinking grows.

Indications suggest that the key battleground will be over the 9pm watershed. Lobbyists are already pressing for it to apply to food advertising. And you can bet that unless obesity levels drop quickly, the health zealots will claim its case for a pre-watershed ban to be overwhelming.

After food, what next? No gaming ads around afternoon sports shows? Once the watershed is conceded over food, will car and alcohol advertisers and even financial institutions be left alone? It's vital the industry shows it knows how people think better than any anti-advertising group.

It beggars belief that there are still those who equate advertising with sorcery, and that they believe it can seduce people into buying things they don't need with money they don't have. The fact is that no advertiser can afford to be out of touch with public opinion and expect to stay in business.

Consumers won't put up with having their intelligence insulted by lobbyists or ministers, and adland has a fantastic opportunity to emerge as a champion. It should seize it.

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