Opinion: Why ad ban could lead to rise in binge-drinking

Will the day ever dawn when the ad industry doesn't have to keep making the case for itself? Not anytime soon, if last week's events are any indication.

First the British Medical Association calls for the UK to become the first country in the world to introduce a complete ban on alcohol advertising and sponsorship. Then the Conservatives say they'll demand tougher voluntary curbs on the advertising of food and alcohol should they form the next administration - but stop short of any outright bans.

Finally, it's revealed that the results of the ad code review, which has raised the prospect of TV commercials for abortion clinics and condom ads before the 9pm watershed, have been delayed until next year because the reviewers have been deluged with submissions.

If there's any conclusion to be drawn from all this, it's surely that advertising will never completely counter the disproportionate amount of blame heaped on it by would-be social engineers. Of these, the BMA is the hardest to brush aside. After all, this is a body that demands to be taken seriously, even when its call for an ad ban to get binge-drinking under control would be neither practical nor effective.

In fact, there's nothing to suggest such a ban would improve matters one jot. Not while "happy hours" persist, not while so much cheap alcohol is available (both of these also come under fire in the BMA report) and not while giant drinking dens encourage teens and twentysomethings to booze until lights-out. Indeed, there's a real threat that an ad ban would simply provoke more price competition leading to consumption rising still further.

The Tory proposals seem somewhat more palatable. Ensuring that voluntary controls are working by having them regularly reviewed has got to be preferable to legislation.

All of this underscores the need for the industry to keep holding the line. Because you can bet that if an alcohol ad ban ever came to pass, it wouldn't be long before a highly vocal pressure group turned its attention to cars for no better reason than people sometimes get killed driving them.

Consolidation comes with its own costs

Campaign's front page wouldn't be complete these days without news of another global media review, Aviva being the latest. The reason isn't hard to fathom. Consolidation can bring about substantial and vital cost savings. That's hard to argue with. But only as long as the savings aren't at the expense of local flexibility and innovation.

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