You may have read or heard that Transport for London, who run the transport… for London, have recently banned ‘junk food’ ads. Being as big a fan of state intervention as I am, I thought I would comment on some of the implications this decision has for the advertising community and the rest of us.
Firstly I wanted to establish who owns the advertising space on London’s public transport.
At the time of writing the London underground or ‘tube’ is operated by a company called London Underground Limited (LUL) which is in turn owned entirely by Transport for London (TFL) which is part of the Greater London Authority (GLA). The board of TFL is appointed by the Mayor of London, who is also the big cheese (low fat of course) of the GLA.
Now let me be clear that I am not a huge fan of the fast food industry or the culture of chunkiness that I myself am a consumer in. But it surely cannot slip the notice of even the most ardent ‘healthy eating inquisitor’ how easily this bit of censorious behaviour can be taken advantage of and snowball.
And the downhill rolling has already begun only a week after the ban came into effect, with culinary company Farmdrop being required to crop out images of bacon and butter in order to run their ad, as reported by the BBC.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that the current Mayor of London has banned imagery from advertising, last year it was “body shaming” in the beach-body-ready campaign that was banned, another ridiculously broad brush that could not possible ever be mis-used.
So how heavily should advertising be regulated? And should adverts be afforded the same freedom of speech that we (are supposed to) have?
It is unquestionable that the UK has a serious obesity issue, as does most of the developed world, food is plentiful, and work is less laborious. Do these people actually think that banning pictures of bacon or a big mac are going to make an impact of an individual’s life choices?
And why pick on food and specifically fast food at that?
- Car crashes cause a lot of damage, but we don’t ban adverts showing cars that can go fast enough to cause a fatality (all of them, perhaps with the exception of my Punto.)
- Alcohol causes a whole host of damage to our society, but we don’t ban adverts showing alcohol that can cause harm (all of it).
- Power tools can seriously **** you up, but we don’t ban adverts that show power tools that can make communicating with other drivers less satisfying.
- Eating too many carrots will turn you a funky presidential hue of orange, but we don’t bad adverts that show carrots…
Do you see where I’m going here?
We do show adverts of powerful cars, because we are trusted to drive the car responsibly.
We are shown adverts of wine, beers and spirits (mines a shandy please) because we are trusted to consume alcohol responsibly.
The shandy equivalent of drinking irresponsibly is not having enough sun-cream on ones nose. – Me, Just now.
We are shown adverts of the latest in mitre cutting technology, because we are trusted to build shitty bird houses responsibly.
And we are shown adverts of carrots because we are trusted to not be total idiots and eat hundreds of god damn carrots.
So why can we not be shown adverts of burgers? Why is it that we are not trusted to make our own choices and live with the consequences? Why are some businesses being persecuted but not others? Why are marketeers being forced to jump through hoops or otherwise have their work banned?
And above all… Why was it OK for McDonald’s to be the restaurant partner of the Olympic Games, but not to have an ad on the tube?
And if I can take a leaf from my Mormon friends’ book(s)here, when was the last time you looked at the ingredients of one of those stylish coffees from your local hipster corral?
- High levels of fat, check.
- Addictive stimulant, check.
- Ungodly amounts of sugar, check.
- Artificial flavourings and chemicals, check.
At least a cheeseburger can feed a hungry person for a very affordable price, and I mean insanely affordable compared to any food item in human history.
Ounce per ounce fast food is the greasy pinnacle of consumer value. Unlike anything else I listed above. The great equaliser among end and truly the last, best hope we have of world peace. (McDonald’s can I have my vouchers now?)
As it boils down there are two reasons why a person may want to ban these or in fact any adverts that do not depict or encourage violence, sex, drugs or rock n’ roll:
1) They think they can influence someone’s personal choices by not showing them something they may want to purchase in a consenting transaction.
2) They know it will make no difference but just want adverts (companies) that they don’t like to go away.
Either way it is about control, over individuals, over businesses and over the act of marketing itself.
Marketeers are in a very difficult position at the best of times, as well as balancing the needs of our clients/employers and our customers we now must balance the demands of the state in greater and greater amounts. When does it go from “well we did all the research we could, but ultimately the market will decide if this ad works” to “I’ll have to run this ad past Dave, the Ministry of Truth Officer on floor 3, before we can send it out”?
When it comes to creating an advert the only consideration should be will this advert reach our customers in an informative, timely and accessible way? Any consideration of will it offend X, or will it get censored by some talentless jobsworth is an assault on corporate agency and creativity and an insult to our intelligence and self determination as consumers.
And I leave you with this thought, of my two reasons stated above, a choice between control for influence or control for controls sake, which of the two is the greater or lesser evil?