What marketers need to know about the political scene a year ahead of the General Election

Most normal people will shudder at the thought of a whole year of electioneering as the General Election in May 2015 looms, writes Ian Twinn, the public affairs director of ISBA.

Ian Twinn, public affairs director of ISBA
Ian Twinn, public affairs director of ISBA

Personally, I will be following it avidly, as one might expect from a former Tory MP! There are, after all, some serious issues on the table, which a future government can try to solve or choose to ignore. With my ISBA hat on, I want to focus on those issues affecting that peculiar place we call Adland.

No one can predict with certainty the result of the next election.  While this won’t stop pundits from trying, it also means that marketers needs to take each of the main parties seriously, as each could play a significant part in determining the health of our industry.

First, the freedom to advertise responsibly is in doubt for the first time in a generation. Labour’s Helen Goodman’s performance at the AA’s Lead2014 may have been honest but her comments were certainly ill-informed.  Will Labour be able to do an effective turnaround and convince us that they understand the importance of advertising to the economy, for jobs and for the Treasury’s tax take? Certainly, it won’t be the AA’s fault if they don’t.

Post-Paxo world

The temptation to prescribe our behaviour is not limited to Labour: the Lib Dems display it within government and plenty of Tory Ministers seem to be infected with the idea that the state should intervene for the greater good.

On some issues this can be sensible, but when it touches on advertising it becomes a worry. Can any party guarantee to keep to the evidence and promise not to ban or seriously over regulate ads because they can’t tackle the real issues of obesity, alcohol abuse, financial incontinence or gambling? In a post-Paxo world, I do hope someone asks the difficult question.

Put simply, banning ads will not make anyone thin, or put on weight if that is the issue. What may work is a medium to long-term commitment from successive governments to educate children and parents about eating well, about cooking (yes, Jamie is right), about plenty of exercise and good competitive sport. But the results don’t follow election timetables. Working in genuine partnership with government, advertising and responsible NGOs is a must.

Press regulation and wider media regulation must not become a political toy

The big questions about the media are on the table. Advertisers, like citizens, want good content at a fair price.  Press regulation and wider media regulation must not become a political toy.  With the press, I fear it may be.

Even the BBC is in danger; do we keep the license fee ‘poll tax’, or ask people to volunteer to pay? And will the latter result in less funding for quality content? The final decision will affect our industry and I see no easy answer.  Of course the Beeb has not helped itself with the perceived failure of its Governors, and then the Trustees. Personally, my vote would be for Ofcom supervision; but then ISBA asked for that ten years ago!

Then there is Scotland. It is their right to decide.  But if they go we are left with working out how one ‘whole British Isles’ market copes with two different ad and media regulators. You probably won’t be running the same ad north of the border in an independent Scotland with the authority to set its own laws meeting local needs.

In an odd way, the EU makes life easier.  Westminster has given so much decision making to Brussels that come what may, in May the home government will still be implementing directives and regulations on consumer issues, data privacy, media rules and food and drink matters.

The election this month for MEPs is arguably more significant for our industry than those that take place next year.   Should we then leave the EU lots of issues affecting advertising would be up for grabs. But that is a very different matter.