Editorial: Adland has to act to stem pressure group attacks

Peta Buscombe, the Advertising Association chief executive, was guilty neither of exaggeration nor paranoia when she told last week's ISBA conference: "We are an industry under siege." Attacks on advertising have never been more relentless, as the pressure groups chalk up their wins.

First came the tobacco ad ban, then the new rules on food and drink TV advertising to children. And when almost all restrictions on the promotion of gambling are lifted, there is every reason to believe the assaults will grow more intense.

Buscombe's declaration that the time has come for adland to draw a line in the sand comes at an apposite point. With regime change having taken place - or about to - at the AA, the Advertising Standards Authority and ISBA, there is a real opportunity to start speaking with a united voice.

This has not been happening. In trying to build consensus, the industry has seemed lumbering and slow to react to the more fleet-footed single-issue pressure groups, which have learned how to get a disproportionate amount of attention from politicians and a good headline in a gullible tabloid.

And when even Gordon Brown starts spouting nonsense about so much "aggressive" advertising to children with no firm evidence to back his claim, it is clear the anti-advertising lobby continues to score highly damaging direct hits.

Most worrying is that these groups sewing such seeds are not always what they seem. Far from being the voice of consumers, as they claim, such lobbyists are often against the whole idea of advertising, believing it to be "capitalist brainwashing". This would be funny were it not so serious. These groups have already managed to overturn the understanding the industry thought it had with the Government that if it conceded on tobacco it would not face further curbs.

Now it seems certain that if child obesity levels fail to fall quickly, the lobbyists will be back to claim the Ofcom controls have failed and a total ban on so-called junk-food ads is the only option. Were that to happen, it would be open season. Binge-drinking? An alcohol ad ban will solve that, or how about cleaning up the environment by extending a ban to car-makers and airlines? Far-fetched? The records of the pressure groups suggest not. As Buscombe says: "We have to up our game. Doing nothing is not an option."