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Ad industry puts the boot into ‘treacherous’ Chartered Institute of Marketing research

June 8, 2012

An amusing industry spat has broken out between the Chartered Institute of Marketing and just about everyone else over the way the industry has been handling the vexed issue of marketing to children.

One year into the Bailey era, the CIM has released research that apparently shows 85% of parents are unaware of the Government-sponsored and industry-sanctioned ParentPort website – a forum that enables parents to vent their spleen at the way marketers have been commercialising and sexualising childhood. This, from one of its own, is an unforgivable undercut to the belly of the industry, which claims to have made Stakhanovite progress in grappling with an issue in which David Cameron has taken a highly personal interest.

The result has been uproar, with other industry bodies jostling to put the boot into the CIM research.

First to weigh in with apoplectic energy was the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA), the principal trade body for clients.

The riposte from ISBA’s director of public affairs Ian Twinn was masterly in its use of cutting irony: “ISBA is an active supporter of the industry pledge on the use of peer-to-peer marketing, along with many leading advertisers and media, but sadly the CIM remained aloof from the collective efforts of the wider industry.” Which was very silly of it, because now it’s going to enjoy zero support for its views.

Next up, and in similarly sarcastic frame of mind, is the Advertising Association, which represents clients, agencies and media. This week’s newsletter thunders:

“Thank goodness that advertising think-tank Credos has already done some far more thorough work on the same topic. Are advertising and marketing of concern to parents? Yes. But are they the biggest concern? Not by a very long shot. Are parents less concerned when rules and real life ads are explained in context? Yes they are. Should advertising respond? You bet – and we have. Ask (former AA chairman) Mark Lund.”

Industry regulator the Advertising Standards Authority has confined itself to a more diplomatic rebuke: “The work that regulators, including the ASA, continue to undertake in responding positively to the recommendations in the Bailey review (Letting Children Be Children) has been welcomed by government as well as family and parenting groups.” Subtext: ‘So what in God’s name do you people over at CIM think you are playing at?’

I’m beginning to feel sorry for David Thorp, CIM’s director of research. Just trying to help, eh, David?

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Advertising industry sheds crocodile tears over Steve Hilton’s departure

March 6, 2012

Few in the ad industry will lament the departure of Steve “Yoda” Hilton, David Cameron’s director of strategy. Indeed, such is the relief that he is going, some would willingly pack the diminutive “blue-sky” thinker’s bags, as he contemplates a year’s ‘sabbatical’ with his family in California. Politically speaking, California is the sunny side of Siberia.

Why good riddance? Well, the word that best sums up Hilton’s relationship with the ad industry is “renegade”.

Although Hilton’s association with Cameron and the Tory party predates the 1992 election campaign, most of his subsequent years were spent in the service of advertising, the career that actually earned him a living. Hilton quickly hooked up with Maurice Saatchi, who professed to see in young Steve a kind of son: “No one reminds me as much of me when young as Steve”, he is reputed to have said. And the admiration was mutual. Steve dutifully followed Maurice from Saatchi & Saatchi to breakaway M&C Saatchi as a kind of intellectual bag-carrier. Hilton’s ability to think “out of the box” or perhaps more accurately, “to get out of his box”, soon became apparent with his contribution to the 1997 election campaign. The “Demon Eyes” poster was certainly visually arresting and highly memorable, but trying to make the then-saintly Tony Blair into the Devil Incarnate probably did more to win votes for Labour than for the party originating it. This episode would seem to underline an abiding truth about Hilton’s career: that high intelligence and original thinking are no guarantee of common sense.

Never mind. After 13 years of hard Labour, which saw the 2002 ban on cigarette advertising followed in 2007 by severe TV restrictions on foods high in fat, salt and sugar, and much muttering about out-of-control drinks advertising, the ad industry seemed to have every reason to pop the corks when it emerged that one of their own was to become the man officially in charge of David Cameron’s brain.

How wrong they all were. Had they done their homework more carefully they would have found our man wasn’t the pragmatic trimmer everyone hoped he might be. A Steve Hilton blog post from as early as 2004, entitled “Will sexual marketing be the next consumer backlash?”, espoused some rather unfashionable, untraditionalist opinions on the matter of “the relentless drive by big businesses to sexualise small children, ageing them prematurely in the process”, while denouncing the “sexual predators of the advertising industry” for good measure.

Ring a bell? “The Bailey Report”, says one insider, “Appears to have taken its brief directly from Steve Hilton’s old blog.” Too right, and laudable though the principles informing Reg Bailey’s report are, what a nightmare they have proved to implement. The regulators have gone into puritanical overdrive, with a zeal reminiscent of the Salem witch trials. Practically any female flesh exposed in a public place (ie, on posters) is now regarded as a potential contaminant of young minds – as the recent case of the Advertising Standards Authority versus Marks & Spencer only too vividly reminded us.

However, the Bailey Report and its aftermath are a mooncast shadow when compared with Hilton’s other bequest to the ad industry. Fairly or not, Hilton’s blue-sky thinking is blamed for the ultimate destruction of the Central Office of Information. For which read a £540m-a-year ad industry gravy-train.

Pinning the blame on a single person for what may yet turn out to be a government-wide communications disaster zone might seem a little harsh. After all, there are plenty of available villains – if that’s what they are – from Francis Maude to half the cabinet office. And yet the suspicion lingers that Hilton somehow gave Maude the intellectual confidence to take an axe to the venerable institution in the first place, with his bizarre proposal for a spare and minimalist Ad Council to displace the heavily bureaucratic COI.


Unilever gets dressing down for smutty Lynx ads, but ASA needs to widen its aim

November 23, 2011

It’s official: we, or rather our children, have been seeing far too much of Lucy Pinder’s ample cleavage, and it’s got to stop.

That is the verdict of ad regulator the Advertising Standards Authority on the latest Lynx online and poster ads, which show the glamour model in assorted demi-nues poses.

Whether in reality La Pinder, who routinely appears topless in a variety of newspapers and magazines freely available to all, is corrupting the nation’s youth by testing the power of Lynx’s anti-perspirant control remains highly debatable. But the fact is Unilever, owner of the Lynx brand and generally deemed a responsible advertiser, has clumsily transgressed one of the great contemporary pieties: the need to protect our little ones from the merest taint of precocious sexualisation.

This was a slow-motion accident waiting to happen. Lynx is inherently laddish. It self-consciously appeals to the sort of young male (17-27 years old) who avidly devours exactly the kind of mag in which Pinder tends to appear topless. Yet the difficulty for Unilever is not primarily the positioning of the brand – although its treatment of women as blatant sex objects does sit increasingly oddly with the infinitely more respectful approach adopted by Dove, also a Unilever brand. It is in the sloppiness of the media placement: a case of creative strategy being highjacked by the media buying/planning agency.

As a result, Unilever has become the first high-profile casualty of the David Cameron-endorsed Bailey Report, which strongly recommended protecting young children from just this kind of commercial “smut”. One key proposal was that there should be a clampdown on erotically-suggestive posters. And yet Unilever and its agencies wilfully went ahead with the idea. Despite the fact that, after pre-vetting, the ASA’s CAP Copy Advice unit had already cautioned the ad was likely to be banned.

Less obviously culpable, perhaps, is the placement of the online ads. That they have also been banned suggests you simply can’t be too careful these days when posting ads in such apparently child interest-free zones as Yahoo and Rotten Tomatoes.

I won’t say the ASA zealously hit the wrong target in singling out Lynx, because it didn’t. But let’s face it, when it comes to taste, decency and the issue of inappropriate commercial intrusion, the regulator needs to broaden its aim.

Take a look at this Littlewoods Christmas commercial (produced in-house) which is creating quite a furore on Facebook:

To quote from Marketing Magazine, which ran the story:

One [Facebook] commentator said: “I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it is too irresponsible to allow. It promotes copious spending, which is what started this damn credit crisis – people spending money that they haven’t got because they felt the need to compete with the Smiths, or buy love.”

Another commentator said: “What a great example to kids to know that what makes a mother a good one is how much over-expensive bling she buys them at Christmas.”

Quite. Corrupting our kids isn’t simply a matter of prematurely exposing them to seamy sex.


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