Woodford, whose agency previously handled several public sector briefs, was proposing the motion “government advertising saves the country money” at a Debating Group debate at the House of Commons earlier this week sponsored by TV marketing body Thinkbox.
Government spending on marcomms has dropped dramatically since the coalition took office in 2010 and slashed budgets to help cut the deficit. In 2008/09 the government spent about £240m on above the line advertising and just £40m in 2011, according to most estimates.
Woodford, also a former president of the IPA, says anti-smoking campaigns, for example, save money by reducing the financial burden on the NHS that is caused by smoking-related illnesses and fatalities. He cited figures presented by the Cabinet Office to a public finance select committee in 2010 that claimed a £5 return to the NHS for every pound spent on anti-smoking advertising.
“The right sort of advertising is a powerful and cost-effective tool that is proven to save the taxpayer considerable sums of money,” he added.
Advertising does not just save the country money, Woodford argued, it also improves the health and well-being of the nation.
“The benefits of spending more go beyond saving money. Government spending saves lives, increases the amount of tax collected. The answer is to spend more than we have in recent years and save more. Not spend less.”
Opposing the motion, Matthew Sinclair director of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, which wants to see government spending reduced to a minimum, said that television advertising, particularly spots carrying anti-smoking messages, is “wasteful” because it uses a mass-medium to target few people.
He added that other factors, such as tax increases, are more influential when a smoker decides to quit.
“People stop smoking because they do not want to die plus the cost of smoking, regardless of advertising”, he said, adding “the advertising industry does many good things for society but it will best serve not through public information campaigns”.
The motion, which was seconded by former Central Office of Information (COI) chief executive Mark Lund, was carried by an overwhelming show of hands.
The debate comes in the week that the COI officially closes. It will be replaced by the Government Communications Centre operating from the Cabinet Office.
Watch Marketing Week’s choice of the best COI ads here.