Jeremy Lee
Jeremy Lee
A view from Jeremy Lee

HAT's bid to benefit from dementia sufferers seems morally bereft

As a charity, the History of Advertising Trust should not be seeking to benefit from the elderly.

According to Alzheimer’s Research UK, an estimated 850,000 people are living with dementia and nearly 24.6 million people around them are currently affected by its consequences. For the History of Advertising Trust, this has presented the organisation, which also has charitable status, with a potential "money-spinner" (its words). 

Like most people, when I first heard that HAT was offering care homes the opportunity to improve the lives of older people and those suffering from dementia by giving them old ads that might jog long-forgotten memories, it sounded like a delightful idea. After all, it has long been shown that reminiscence therapy reduces stress and agitation, and showing old ads is as good an evocation as anything.

But then it was also revealed that HAT would be charging each care home £40 per month for use of the service – and my reaction turned to horror. 

There are about 11,300 care homes in the UK (a potential annual revenue stream to HAT of more than £5m a year), so it’s perhaps little wonder that HAT is keen to "get in" to them. And that’s before it tries flogging the service to the NHS and other charities – a nice little earner, indeed. Obviously, HAT has its own costs in maintaining its archive of 10 million old ads, but the initiative doesn’t seem a particularly agreeable way to fund this. 

HAT has attempted to justify its charges (discounts are available for annual payments and group bookings – so that’s alright, then) by saying that care homes "pay up to £100 for an entertainer". And indeed they do – but entertainers are not charities. Plenty of other charities, such as The Sporting Memories Network, Arts 4 Dementia and The Baring Foundation, already provide reminiscence and sensory therapy to older people. And they do it for free. Also, on a local level, sports and arts organisations are frequently involved in providing stimulus for dementia sufferers.

But not the ad industry. No, its charity sees it as a "money-spinner", which seems to confirm all of the public’s misgivings of advertising as a venal and morally dubious sector. 

Rather than charging to allow people possibly nearing the end of their lives to watch old ads that might trigger memories and improve their well-being, it would be far better for HAT to offer this service for free. And if that isn’t feasible or HAT isn’t prepared to do so, then agencies, brands and media platforms should pay – not the people caring for dementia sufferers.

Jeremy Lee is consulting editor at Campaign