Opinion: perspective - Advertising's reasons to feel paranoid - part 3

The Government's forked tongue has been much in evidence lately. As the state wrestles with the impending pensions crisis and how to encourage more saving, this week we have the beleaguered Gambling Bill lurching through Parliament.

As new legislation extends pub opening hours, Ofcom this week issued new rules on alcohol advertising - a step towards curbing binge-drinking.

And as school playing fields are sold off, it emerged this week that there is a putative plot to drop from the COI Communications roster those advertising agencies that work on campaigns promoting unhealthy foods to young people.

So we are given free rein to bugger up our lives with crippling gambling debts but not to bugger up our livers with booze or fur up our arteries with junk foods. Yet this isn't quite the contradiction it seems; there's a common pecuniary thread. There are lucrative levies to be extracted from the gaming giants, while the social and health service costs of alcohol and unhealthy eating are increasing.

Of course, it's not nearly as simple as that, but it's easy to see why the simmering threat to COI agencies with fast-food accounts and the new alcohol advertising rules should feel like unfair discrimination perched on top of an ulterior motive. Even so, there's much to be thankful for with the new alcohol rules. They're "extremely tough but workable", ISBA says - a blessing considering the original draft proposals, which were "extremely tough, but entirely unworkable".

Yes, Ofcom's decision to allow the Advertising Standards Authority's Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice to come up with guidelines on the interpretation of the code, in conjunction with public consultation, seems like a fudge that will only delay clarity. But, as with most of its rulings and activities so far, Ofcom has again displayed a light touch and a welcome willingness to work with the industry's own self-regulatory mechanisms.

The bad news for creative agencies already cracking their knuckles over how to sneak round the new rules is that Ofcom has made it clear that the spirit, as well as the letter, of the code will be closely guarded.

The good news for the liberals is that there's really little change in the new rules; the Institute of Alcohol Studies has described the whole process towards the new legislation as "a mighty blather from which comes a tiny little mouse with a very small squeak at the end of it".

There is no doubting the increased importance of proven effectiveness to advertising's status within the client community. So the IPA's Effectiveness Awards are rightly more coveted, and recognised, than ever. Among a stupendous line-up of credible winners, Vallance Carruthers Coleman Priest, DDB London and Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R were judiciously awarded top dog accolades. If there's any justice, these prizes will strengthen client relationships, attract new business and ensure the agencies are paid a proper wedge for their efforts.

However, there was a distinct cynicism from some of the judges as to the robustness of certain claims laid out in many of the papers. "If all these increased profitability figures were really true, the UK economy would be at boiling point," one whispered. Yet, as another pointed out, almost everyone on the judging panel had a vested interest in championing advertising effectiveness; how about a few more cynics on the panel (a procurement director or two, perhaps) to give the next awards even greater credibility?

Two final thoughts: whoever told Niall FitzGerald, the highly respected chairman of the judges, that he was funny? And how much money will Joanna Bamford make from the next awards: as an author of the winning paper in 2000, for Tesco, and of this year's O2 entry, she clearly knows how to press the right buttons. I'd get your bids for her services in early.

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