Does Hamlet deserve brickbats or bouquets from the advertising community
for its return (Campaign, last week) to the big screen?
One could argue - and clearly Gallaher and Collett Dickenson Pearce
would - that there were no statutory powers preventing it from going
back on to cinema, only a voluntary code. So why not? After all, those
agreements were conceived in another era, and times change. Moreover, by
bowing to the public’s anti-tobacco sentiment, the tobacco companies are
in danger of conceding an important principle: the right to advertise
products that are freely available.
The move shows that, just as with the drinks companies last year, a
voluntary code isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. But that is about
as far as the parallel goes. The drinks companies came off TV not
because of the weight of public opinion or the threat of legal action,
but because they decided they could save money that way. The tobacco
companies, by contrast, have voluntarily restrained their promotional
and advertising activities for fear of causing a huge public backlash
that would lead to an outright ban on all promotional activity.
There are two pointers that suggest Gallaher has taken a controlled
risk. First, the film itself is low-budget. Second, when Campaign rang
the Advertising Standards Authority for comment it was unable to offer
any. The reason? The ASA knew nothing about the film, which suggests
that Gallaher is hoping that, if the public doesn’t react, the ASA will
have no cause to ban the ad.
The other view is that Gallaher risks bringing the whole house of cards
down around it. Certainly, you feel that the mood of the public, and the
legislature, continues to move in favour of an outright ban.
But Gallaher may argue that it will be doing us a service if the matter
is eventually cleared up. At the very least, it has thrown down a
gauntlet to the anti-smoking lobby.