GLOBAL BRIEF: EC climbdown leaves toy advertising in jeopardy. A Europe-wide ban on toy ads is growing more likely, Francesca Newland writes

Advertising agencies and toy makers across Europe were dealt a blow last week when it emerged that the European Commission has abandoned investigations into Greece’s toy advertising ban.

Advertising agencies and toy makers across Europe were dealt a blow

last week when it emerged that the European Commission has abandoned

investigations into Greece’s toy advertising ban.



The decision casts a shadow over the future of toy advertising in

Europe. Sweden’s presidency of the European Union in 2001 already

threatens a pan-European ban on toy advertising, and the Greek

investigation was seen by many as a test case.



Lionel Stanbrook, deputy director-general of the Advertising

Association, says of the commission’s decision: ’You could say it’s

terribly important because, in some ways, it appears to be a watershed.

A lot of groups and countries were waiting for the result.



’It was a test of the single market, the advertising industry and the

commission. And, in many ways, that test has been completed and come

against toy advertising.’



The decision is likely to mean the commission will cease investigations

called by the Toy Industries of Europe into Sweden’s total ban on

advertising aimed at children, Ireland’s ban on ads during pre-school

programming, and Belgium’s ban on ads appearing five minutes before and

after children’s programmes.



The European toy industry lodged a complaint against the Greek ad ban in

1994. It argued that the Greek legislation went against the EU’s single

market and that it was set up to protect the Greek toy industry from

international competitors. In fact, the AA claims that non-Greek toy

makers have lost about 40 per cent of their turnover in Greece.



The AA also notes that there has been a 30 per cent drop in investment

in children’s programming in Greece.



Stanbrook believes the decision was based on outgoing commissioners’

desires to clear their desks. ’Instead of passing on this single market

test case to the new commission, certain commissioners are trashing

their offices as they leave,’ he says.



Stanbrook explains that 11 of the commissioners who voted are leaving,

while three of the four who voted against closing the case are staying

on.



But Stanbrook’s pessimism is tempered by hope. He says the toy industry

has indicated that it will re-submit the case. He explains: ’All is not

lost. From September, there will be a new commission and new

commissioners.



They will be led by Frits Balkestin from Holland who is reputed to be a

down-the-line single market guy.’



Stanbrook has also petitioned Neil Kinnock, one of the four commission

members who voted to continue the investigation, asking him to review

the circumstances around the decision. Stanbrook says: ’There is a

possibility that the shabbiness will be reviewed.’



Despite the planned efforts, the future of toy advertising in Europe is

looking bleak. Children’s high levels of susceptibility to advertising

is a provable fact. And the argument that Greece’s ban goes against

single market principles will bite back in 2001, when Sweden’s

presidency plans to try to introduce a pan-European ban.



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