Reassuring an ad-cynical public

The advertising industry will have to make a concerted effort to regain the trust of a disenchanted public before it can convince the EU that restrictions are unnecessary.

Of the communications issues facing marketers, legislation – what can be said about what, when and to whom – is one that can only continue to grow in importance as the Europe Union converges around business and social practices.

Sweden’s presidency of the EU is likely to increase pressure on restricting the right to advertise to children, but the topic is already on the agenda of a number of EU countries. Earlier this month, for example, agreement was reached in Belgium to restrict advertising in the run-up to Christmas and Easter, while in Italy, the Commissione per l’infanzia (Childhood Commission) successfully tabled a first-stage proposal to ban advertising between children’s programmes and replace it with short films promoting social issues.

That Italy should be considering such a measure is noteworthy given the history of advertising there and, particularly, the success of the advertising format Carosello.

Broadcast television was introduced in Italy in 1954, but it was not until 1957 that advertising first appeared. RAI, the state broadcasting authority, settled on a format consisting of short films with wide family appeal, produced by outside companies such as CinecittÃÂ and broadcast in blocks of four. Each film was to last one minute and 45 seconds, to which a 30-second commercial message could be appended. The name Carosello – borrowed from a hit musical – was chosen to describe the format.

As Italy emerged from the war years, Carosello became a showcase for manufacturer brands such as Pavesini biscuits, Alemagna ice cream and Chlorodont toothpaste, symbols of an economy once more in growth. Broadcast nightly at 8.50pm, the programme also developed a special place in the lives of the country’s children. For any Italian now over 30, the phrase “dopo Carosello, tutti a letto” (“after Carosello, off to bed”) will be more than familiar. By the time it was taken off air in 1977, Carosello boasted an audience of 19 million, 9 million of whom were children.

The Carosello format is often blamed for the Italian advertising industry’s subsequent inability to produce work of comparable quality to that found in markets such as the UK and the US. This aside, the programme uniquely penetrated the fabric of social life during its run, reaching beyond the realm of pure commercial communications to form a focal point of Italian family life.

Clearly, these are different times. However, to ensure that advertising continues to be perceived as an acceptable form of communication, the marketing and communications industries must make a concerted response to the threat of legislative pressure at a local, national and pan-European level.

Though it may no longer claim centre stage, effective representation – through initiatives such as the Advertising Education Forum – will be essential to ensure that advertising remains an acceptable way in which to inform consumers, including children, about the availability of individual goods and services.

John Shannon is president of Grey International

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