EUROPE: Eurocrats can say ‘Yes’ as well as ‘No’

Many marketers feel threatened by the EU, perceiving it as an ad-banning nanny. But it can also relax states’ protectionist rules, says Martin Croft

By 2003, it is expected that the advertising of cigarettes, cigars, tobacco and related products in the UK will be banned, bringing this country into line with European Union law.

If Britain does enact the EU directive preventing the advertising of tobacco products, then the marketing services industry will lose above-the-line billings totalling more than &£20m in 2001, according to Nielsen Media Research (NMR), plus significant revenue in direct marketing, sales promotion, design, public relations and so on. While the ban will not cripple UK marketing services, it will hurt.

But the industry knew all along that the tobacco war was lost, and has been planning accordingly. Simon Norton, managing director of Gallaher’s ad agency, cdp-travissully, says: “I started running the Gallaher account in 1994. We thought then that we only had a year left, so we’ve had seven more years than we expected.”

What really worries marketing services companies is not the tobacco ban, but a host of other potential threats. Industry bodies are highlighting proposals that could lead to restrictions on advertising soft drinks, savoury snacks and confectionery to children; TV advertising targeting children; car marketing; alcohol marketing; marketing vitamin supplements and herbal remedies; and direct marketing and sales promotion in general.

As Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association director of trade and industry affairs Chris Ogden says: “If I were in fast food, alcoholic drinks or cars, I would be extremely alarmed.”

So-calle

d “junk food” is the latest addition to the list of sectors potentially threatened by the EU. Two weeks ago, an international conference on obesity held in Copenhagen heard demands for EU controls on marketing food and soft drinks to children (MW last week).

In the year to the end of June, food and drink manufacturers spent &£31.5m on advertising savoury snack foods in the UK, &£66.8m on advertising breakfast cereals and &£25.6m on soft drinks (NMR).

Incorporated Society of British Advertisers director of public affairs Ian Twinn says: “If such a ban were introduced across Europe, it would jeopardise billions of pounds in marketing spend and undermine the commercial basis of all broadcasting.”

Food and Drink Federation deputy director-general Martin Paterson says UK codes on advertising to children already state that “ads should not encourage children to eat or drink frequently throughout the day, condone excessive consumption or suggest confectionery or snacks should replace balanced meals.” He adds: “In Sweden, where advertising to children is banned, parents complain more about children pestering them to buy things than they do in Spain, where advertising is completely deregulated.”

Marketers are a soft target, argues Twinn. Blaming them enables other parties to evade culpability, such as “individuals themselves, for not eating a properly balanced diet or taking enough exercise; or governments, for cutting funding for school sports and leisure facilities”.

But if marketers are a soft target, so too is the EU – and, according to a spokesman, many of the things for which it is blamed are either untrue, distorted or form the basis of a minority pet project, with little real hope of being passed as an EU directive. The spokesman says the UK has an extremely distorted view of what the EU is about, a view fed by a stridently anti-European tabloid press.

Furthermore, the purpose of most EU directives covering commercial issues is to further the creation of a single European market, which should give companies a “level playing field” on which to compete. Some directives may restrict what UK marketers can do, while others may open up new opportunities.

For instance, three weeks ago the European Parliament passed proposals to abolish restrictions on sales promotions across the EU. If these proposals lead to an EU directive, then the anti-competitive laws which restrict the use of sales promotions in many EU countries will have to be repealed. And if that happens, UK marketers will have the European Promotional Marketing Alliance (EPMA) – a venture between the Institute of Sales Promotion (ISP) the British Promotional Merchandise Association – to thank.

ISP legal affairs director Philip Circus says the group has been lobbying for years for the changes. He observes: “What is at stake is the ability of UK companies to market their goods and services across the EU.”

UK marketers allege that many EU states’ bans on advertising certain products or using certain techniques are blatantly protectionist.

The French Loi Evin, which bans the TV advertising of alcohol, ostensibly protects the young from alcohol abuse. On the other hand, it arguably protects the French alcohol industry from the threat of major international brands, which find it much more difficult to get a toehold in the French market if they cannot use TV.

But the UK can be equally protectionist. Big UK brand-owners are currently resisting EU proposals that would force this country to relax controls on comparative advertising.

And while UK marketers may complain about EU threats to their livelihood, that does not always mean they actively support efforts to change EU proposals. As Circus says, the EPMA’s success shows it is possible for UK marketers to get their arguments across to the EU, but lobbying Brussels is “expensive and beyond the means of most UK trade bodies”. He admits that the ISP is “at the end” of its resources.

Circus bemoans what he perceives as a lack of support from UK client companies and other trade bodies for the fight to remove anti-competitive laws in other member states. He says: “This is worth billions of pounds – where are all the other people who should be fighting our corner? I didn’t see anyone else in Brussels.”

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