Not in the spirit of public interest

Iain Murray’s article “Advertising is the key to a long life and healthy living” (MW February 21) pokes fun at this Government’s “faith in the power of advertising” and its willing accomplice, the advertising industry.

The article is witty but, like all satire, delivers a serious proposition – that advertising should not be used for important things like health education and that, by taking part in this activity, the advertising industry displays questionable standards. Columnists will always stir debate, and often take extreme views to do so, but I think that Murray has gone too far. His comments are irresponsible and unhelpful.

First, there is no doubt that some extraordinary changes in public behaviour have been achieved through public service advertising – drink-drive, seatbelt usage, even Aids awareness (though the investment in the latter appears to have been disproportionate to the risk in the UK at that time).

Second, why should a service sector not take Government money if those elected choose to spend it on communications? Does Iain Murray himself not accept payment for his services?

The advertising industry (and sadly I must include our trade press) has, without doubt, allowed its natural competitiveness to damage its reputation. Scoring points against other agencies takes priority over promoting our industry. Murray’s article adds to this problem – implying that we are without standards; not to be trusted; not to be taken seriously.

Advertising does have a role to play in public education and should not be embarrassed to say so.

Nobody denies that the country needs better education but there are over 40 million people who are no longer at school or university. Are we seriously to ignore the value to society in trying to influence and develop these people? If not through public broadcasting/communications, how should this be tackled?

When I was a child, the BBC regularly ran “public information” films covering such things as oral hygiene, disposing of litter, smoking, driving standards – a host of issues that, in the public domain, showed people how to behave.

It may seem anachronistic now but I’d like to know why a Government should not address social and behavioural change. Whether it’s free on the BBC or paid for by Government on the commercial channels the public have a right, and the Government a duty, to deliver better education. To attack the advertising industry seems absurd.

Julian Calderara

Deputy managing director

Burkitt DDB

London WC2

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