The case for marketing needs to be clearer

Marketing has taken quite a kicking in recent weeks. From being highlighted as a contributing factor to the country being brought to the riotous precipice last summer, to being fingered as one of the causes of the UK’s descent into drunken rack and ruin, it’s fair to say that marketers have been bereft of love of late.

Russell Parsons

Marketing has taken quite a kicking in recent weeks. From being highlighted as a contributing factor to the country being brought to the riotous precipice last summer, to being fingered as one of the causes of the UK’s descent into drunken rack and ruin, it’s fair to say that marketers have been bereft of love of late.

If this near demonising wasn’t enough then we only have to venture back just a few short weeks to find the Scottish government and, independently the British Labour Party calling for a ban on all food ads before the watershed to stop English, Scottish and Welsh children eating themselves into an early grave.

It does appear that despite brands’ best efforts – pledging to boost the health and well-being of the nation by signing up to the government’s responsibility deal, for example – they are becoming, however temporarily, the go-to for any politician or academic wanting to blame someone for society’s ills.

The three incidents are unrelated and do not amount to a war on marketing. What they do highlight is how direct and other forms of marketing have failed to shed pejorative perceptions despite the best efforts of all in the industry to make marketing and advertising about more than rampant commercialisation. In short, it remains very easy to scapegoat marketers.

Speaking at the ISBA conference last month John Whittingdale MP, chairman of the select committee that investigated the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World, said advertising’s problem is that despite being the “oil in the capitalist machine”, a ban here and further restriction there “does not cost anyone anything”.

The knockers do not see an attack on marketers as a vote loser, nor do they see restricting marketing practices as hitting an industry that contributes jobs, tax and income, which it undoubtedly does.

In response to the recent budget, the Advertising Association took the opportunity to call for greater recognition of its members’ contribution to UK PLC.

It is undoubtedly the case that advertisers, be it those that communicate through direct or other means, contribute to the economic health and actual wellbeing of the nation. The case, however, has not been made with sufficient cogency that it is resonating throughout Westminster and Edinburgh just yet.

The Advertising Association has made making the economic case for advertising more salient and better understood politically a priority. This should not just be the job of the AA. It should be joined by the Direct Marketing Association, ISBA and the IPA to make the case that far from being the cause of society’s problems, it is a cause for celebration and protection.

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