I suppose I could devote this column to an erudite discussion about
the pros and cons of the Government’s proposed ban last week on tobacco
advertising and sponsorship. But I won’t. However much the tobacco
manufacturers and ad industry lobbyists may protest about infringing the
right to freedom of commercial speech, I think we can safely say that
that particular phase of the war is over.
But as one front closes down, so others will open up, and it is these
new areas that will pose fascinating challenges to the ad industry as a
For years - well, since the early 90s - agencies and media buyers have
banged on about how they’re really in the communications or media
solutions business, of which advertising is just a part, and how their
real role is to provide the client with top-level strategic advice. Now,
at last, thanks to the tobacco ban, they have a chance to put this
theory into practice.
That is because, if I can put it this way, tobacco companies no longer
have an advertising problem, but a communications one, and a big one at
that. If ever there was a type of client calling out for a ’total media
solution’, it is the tobacco companies. If ever there was a chance for
agencies to claim the intellectual high ground (if we can call it that
in the context of tobacco) and beat off the challenge from management
consultants and the like who are sniping at the agencies’ position, this
Let us assume, and I think we are fairly safe on this one, that the
pounds 60 million to pounds 75 million that the tobacco companies have
spent annually on sponsorship and traditional press and poster
advertising will be redirected into other areas. Who better then to give
advice on what to do and how to spend it than agencies or media buyers?
It is, of course, one of the paradoxes that, far from marginalising
agencies, the advertising and sponsorship ban actually gives them the
chance to rise higher up the tree.
You can imagine the process. ’OK guys, the party’s over. What do we do
now?’ the tobacco marketing director asks. ’How much do we stick into
direct mail, how much do we spend on promotions and special offers?
Should we have a customer magazine? What about new media such as the
Internet? We know Marlboro and Dunhill have developed clothes and luxury
goods ranges, now can we do the same? How do we get our database into
shape as fast as possible?’
And so it goes. And at the end of the list of options lies one big
question: how is all this activity unified and integrated and, most
importantly, how (and what should it be anyway) do we keep our brand
Disagree if you will, but it is hard to think of a more stimulating
intellectual challenge than for an agency to work out the solution to
Oh, and while the agency’s at it, it might as well see if it can come up
with an answer for the alcopops companies.