Opinion: Perspective - Why more ads might just mean more headaches

Ads, ads everywhere and not all of them are very good. But adland always seems to be wanting more. Is the ad industry over-estimating consumers' tolerance for commercial messages? A couple of things this week make me wonder if we are.

Is the industry becoming so greedy for new media opportunities that it's exacerbating the problem of clutter and adding more fuel to the anti-advertising fire?

Certainly if initial reaction to the news that Ofcom is "looking at looking at" increasing the amount of commercial minutage on terrestrial television channels is anything to go by.

Ofcom is preparing to consider an increase from the current average of seven minutes per hour on ITV1, Channel 4 and five, probably up to nine minutes per hour. And on a rough dipstick, adland is all in favour; media agencies are clamouring for longer ad breaks on these showcase channels. There are some good reasons why.

For starters (and probably only for starters), any increase in commercial airtime supply will bring down the price of TV advertising and has the potential to draw in new advertisers. Good for TV, good for the ad industry. Perhaps some of the media savings might even be ploughed into better quality creativity. Who knows? We can but dream. But the idea of more ads has already been met by screaming headlines in the media: "ad nauseam" (The Sun, of course) and "It's time to put the kettle on - again" (the rather more restrained Times).

At a time when advertising is being seen as a public enemy, suddenly encouraging more of it doesn't necessarily seem the shrewdest strategy. As a TV source in The Sun put it: "There are only so many annoying plugs for the likes of Sheila's Wheels or Cillit Bang that anyone can take." It's certainly true that more mediocre ads will serve no-one well: the danger is that viewers will spend the bumper breaks surfing through the channels or fast- forwarding their Sky+ and may well see fewer ads as a result.

We all know that cliche about how many thousands of commercial messages we're exposed to every day, how much more efficient we're becoming at filtering out or avoiding altogether 95 per cent of them. Piling on more ads might simply fuel the problem.

It's unfortunate that the spectre of more TV minutage should come in the same week that a company called Ad Air Group unveiled plans for a new advertising medium offering giant billboards under key airplane flight paths. Ads, ads everywhere.

The Ad Air sites are each the size of three football pitches and will be illuminated as long as local planning doesn't say no. Apparently, they won't be visible from the ground (at least not as ad sites, simply as large, but low, constructions). So far there are plans for only three of these monstrosities in the UK, but the intention is to establish a global network.

Of course, I'd always defend to the hilt the ad industry's freedom to go about its business responsibly. And the industry certainly needs to keep exploring new, innovative advertising media that can cut through consumer cynicism and engage with audiences in new ways. But these mega-sites make me feel distinctly uncomfortable.

Advertising must avoid becoming a pollution (particularly an environmental one). It's even more imperative at the current, delicate moment in the industry's history when we're under such siege.

We know adland has a sorry record on confidently promoting its contribution to businesses and to the economy. We know adland has a sorry record on defending its business against criticism and regulation. So it's a dangerous time to stir up anti-advertising passions. The pressure groups are waiting to pounce; tread carefully. I can't help but think new media such as Ad Air Group and squeezing in more TV ads might end up doing the industry at large few favours.


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