MEDIA: PERSPECTIVE; Omega ad row is a sign of our lack of public awareness

It is but a short journey from hero to prat, as poor old Giles Rees of Omega Watches fame can testify.

It is but a short journey from hero to prat, as poor old Giles Rees of

Omega Watches fame can testify.

On Friday, as he pulled his ads from Vogue, he was being hailed as a man

of principle. By the weekend, after his boss had humiliated him by

overruling his decision and details of a row over the reproduction

quality of one of Omega’s Vogue ads emerged (from where, one wonders?),

the press had begun to turn on him and portray him as a gormless dupe.

As if that were not enough, he is also accused in some quarters of

trying to influence editorial content - the shame of it - which, as we

all know, is a crime of the utmost iniquity. As if this was the first

time this had happened, and in a glossy magazine to boot. And yet I am

told that in no media sector is the relationship between advertiser and

media owner closer than in glossy magazines. So let’s not have any crap

about that.

And I have bad news for poor Rees. In this issue my colleague, Claire

Beale, paints him as a shameless manipulator and PR chaser (see page


I disagree. Rees may be a tosser for all I know, but that’s not the

point. Nor is the issue of thin/fat/ anorexic, or whatever. And let’s

put aside for the moment the idea that he’s done this in a fit of pique

over some row with Conde Nast. The issue here is the wider one

concerning the role of media owners and advertisers in society and that,

although he was probably not aware of it, was the raw nerve that Rees


This explains both the amount of editorial generated by what was, in

reality, a storm in a teacup and, more pertinently, the number of

readers’ letters that appeared in the papers - most of which supported


The point I wish to make is that there appears to be an increasing

dissonance between, on the one side, what the public thinks is

acceptable and appropriate and, on the other, what advertisers and media

owners do. The evidence increasingly suggests - witness public concern

about the use of children in ads (Campaign, last week) and the Grey

report on ad images of women - that our community (and I include

Campaign here) is losing touch with reality as experienced by the silent

majority. Am I surprised? No. At least not when I am reminded of how

insular we all are in our little village and how efficient the

advertising industry’s defence mechanism is at screening out what it

doesn’t like. That’s why consumers are always referred to contemptuously

as ‘the punter’.

Am I concerned? Yes. The media and ad industries now rival MPs and

estate agents in their lack of public esteem, and sometimes it’s not

hard to figure out why.

That we in the UK have a flourishing media and advertising industries is

largely due to the high degree of public respect they have had. However,

that hard-won respect is being frittered away, and the subsequent media

reaction to the Omega row demonstrates the problem all too well.