EDITORIAL: Clients could avoid ban if they act now

There have been too many times of late when alcohol advertisers seem to be roaring ahead with the reckless abandon of a drunken driver speeding towards a fatal crash. Few now doubt that they face a bigger threat to their freedom to promote their products than ever before, with politicians, whether in London or Brussels, eager to stop what they perceive as alcohol advertisers thumbing their nose at the self-regulatory system.

What's more, they have growing support from a public that has had enough of binge-drunk teenagers and twentysomethings disrupting their towns and cities.

Little matter that the level of complaints against drinks commercials is tiny. As the feature on page 24 points out, casting a hard man such as Vinnie Jones in a Bacardi ad was an act of crassness that undermines the majority of responsible advertising in the sector.

Of course, agency creatives will always push the boundaries to the limit.

Perhaps this devil-may-care approach is also being fuelled by feelings that an official clampdown is inevitable and that if alcohol advertisers really are drinking in the last chance saloon, then they might as well make a party of it. Certainly, the backlash is almost unstoppable - and the alcohol industry must shoulder much of the blame.

For one thing, its lobbying power is hamstrung by the demands of different sectors, which prevent it presenting a united front. For another, it has not managed to replicate what the besieged snack food business - the subject of a feature next week - has done in the obesity debate by convincing opinion formers that there are alternative arguments worthy of a hearing. Meanwhile, alcohol producers dig themselves into a deeper hole with ads that may not actually infringe the letter of the law but that clearly break the spirit of it.

So what can they do? The first thing is to acknowledge the seriousness of their predicament. The second is to make the most of the fact that although they've left it very late in the day to act, their cause isn't irretrievably lost. The Government wants action by the industry that will quickly translate into results. A good start would be to address the burgeoning abuse at the retail end. That may mean advertisers not allowing their brands being used by pubs and clubs to promote "happy hours" or for buy-one-get-one-free offers.

Above all, though, it must convince the world at large that its advertising isn't simply encouraging a culture of conspicuous consumption.

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