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
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
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.