Editorial: It's time adland took the fight to the wider world

When it comes to defending its freedoms, adland has too often proved better at talking to itself about the issues involved rather than making a case to the world at large.

Last week's annual conference of the Advertising Association's Food Advertising Unit only reinforced this perception. No doubt, delegates departed even more convinced of the rightness of their cause, despite a robust counter-case presented by the Labour peer Baroness Glenys Thornton.

The trouble is that such meetings can produce a kind of dangerous complacency. Indeed, it's far too easy to dismiss Thornton merely as a health zealot with a bee in her bonnet about advertising, and lacking any significant support within the Government. That would be a big mistake.

Thornton may have failed once with her Bill to introduce a 9pm watershed for food advertising, and will probably do so should she present it again. But that's not the point. She offers a banner under which the anti-advertising lobby can rally, and the effect is to keep the issue on the political agenda. Ministers may not be backing what Thornton is doing, but there's nothing to stop them threatening to do so if the industry isn't seen to be sufficiently acquiescent. All this means adland must do less preaching to the converted and more evangelising, as well as adopt a more united front.

Looking at the list of delegates at last week's event suggests this has yet to be achieved. Representatives of the regulatory bodies and the trade associations were out in force. So were the commercial broadcasters. But senior agency people were conspicuously few. Do they know there's a sustained attack on much of what they do? Do they care?

Well, they should. Politicians are under pressure to do something about obesity. And while slagging off the ad business never lost anybody an election, advocating people take more personal responsibility for their health is risky.

As one ex-MP put it: "Standing on somebody's doorstep and telling them 'You're fat and stupid and you don't feed your children properly. Please vote for me' doesn't seem like a particularly wise strategy."

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