Government charges that some agencies have been willing accomplices
in the undermining of its ban on tobacco promotion (Campaign, last week)
are highly damaging to advertising’s image because they are hard to
Just when the industry seems to be banishing any lingering public
perceptions of it as an evil seducer, along comes the tobacco issue
again to reinforce all the remaining prejudice.
The latest blow has been delivered by members of the all-party Commons
Health Select Committee, who declare themselves aghast at the extent of
what they see as agency duplicity contained in the raft of internal
documents turned over to them.
Little matter that a lot of the suggestions mooted in the memos are
crass, ludicrous and juvenile. One wonders who was responsible for
suggesting sponsorship of Gay Pride under the slogan ’Rights for
Little matter also that the agencies claim these suggestions were
strangled at birth or that the tobacco companies insist such ideas were
never put to them and would, in any case, have been thrown out.
Even though such ideas are said to have come from relatively junior
staff, they will be seen as indicative of a climate in which dirty
tricks merit consideration. ’It demonstrates the immorality of
advertising,’ Peter Brand, a select committee member, commented.
All this is simply more evidence of the increasingly uncomfortable
relationship between agencies and tobacco manufacturers and the dilemmas
it throws up.
Cigarette companies have been the most profitable and most steadfast
clients for agencies. Gallaher was one of the first to go with Maurice
Saatchi when he left Charlotte Street and will expect his loyalty in
The problem is that cigarettes are products like no other. The argument
that because they are legally produced they should be legally advertised
pales against the UK’s 120,000 smoking-related deaths a year.
Agencies may see themselves as amoral advocates. But, with tobacco, the
public will bracket them with smart lawyers trying to keep serial
killers out of jail.