With Sweden’s presidency of the European Union nearing, attention is increasingly drawn to what changes this may bring. Most notably, this interest has made the Swedish government’s apparent desire to restrict advertising to children into a mainstream issue.
Given such developments, it would be easy for advertising to appear to take a defensive stance. For certain sections of society, the notions evoked by Vance Packard in his 1957 book “The Hidden Persuaders” still linger. Even if Packard’s assertions had been true – today’s consumers are considerably more media literate than those earlier TV audiences. This literacy extends to advertising, with many campaigns becoming firm favourites among the public, yet the acceptance does not always extend to the industry that produces them.
Advertising in the UK gains formal public recognition with award schemes designed to honour viewers’ favourite ads. This approach places advertising firmly within the realm of entertainment. This is fair, because advertising at its best retains an ability to enhance the media landscape into which it is woven. However, such recognition falls short of informed acceptance of the industry, its practices and its aims.
News that the Advertising Association (AA) is to undertake a three-year programme to inform and educate the public on the role of advertising within modern society is welcome. It is building on the solid foundation of service it has provided over the years. In planning its campaign, the AA should look for points of reference.
Initiatives such as the “Semaine de la PublicitÃ©”, for example, the annual advertising festival organised by France’s agency association AACC, can provide a showcase for the industry as a whole. The event allows advertisers and agencies to share their passion for advertising. This spirit is being extended to a permanent museum recently opened in Paris, in buildings previously occupied by France’s Ministry of Finance. Some 50,000 vintage posters, a similar number of more modern works, TV spots and films will be made available to educate the public about the role of advertising, its craft and techniques.
In an increasingly transparent age, the marketing and communications industries should embrace such opportunities to establish and maintain acceptance and understanding of the role they play in providing goods and services desired and demanded by the society they serve.
John Shannon is president of Grey International.