The reason for my derision? Well, the would-be Prime Minister in waiting took the opportunity of his first major speech to the marketing community to offer a light scalding to the attendees of a dinner hosted by Women in Advertising and Communications London. The subject of his ire was gender stereotypes in advertising. Too many “outdated ideas about the role of men and women”, he said, and too many that “do not show the modern world as it is – let alone as it should be.” He also expressed concern about overtly sexual imagery.
According to Labour Party sources quoted in The Telegraph, of particular concern was a Weetabix ad, which – sit yourself down, this is a shocker – showed young girls playing with dolls and boys playing at being superheroes.
These issues are important and I know he was talking to an audience of the great and good of the fairer sex in marketing and communications but did he and his advisers really want his first address on marketing to be so, I would call it damning but it was so anaemic in its criticism (he admitted there was little Government could do but the ad industry had a responsibility to address the issue) that it would be stretching it to define it as such.
Politically speaking his comments were a bit, meh, and behind the curve. David Cameron took ownership of this issue soon after taking office, decrying “irresponsible” marketing and backing several recommendations in a report into the sexualisation of children by Mother’s Union boss Reg Bailey he commissioned that led to the ad industry making several changes.
But most importantly this is a wasted opportunity.
There are plenty of other things occupying Miliband’s mind, granted. Redefining himself and his party as trust-worthy guardians of the economy by coming up with policies not just objections is no small task.
Part of that process of becoming a credible party of commerce, however, is engaging with an industry that fuels the economy.
Miliband needs to be out front acting as supporter and defender of an industry that contributes billions to the economy. The industry needs to know how he will further fuel that contribution. What he and his party stand on the big issues, protecting brands from the impact of data protection regulation, for example.
The Labour Party in opposition, usually via shadow public health minister Dianne Abbott, has so far done little else than take pot shots over how advertisers are contributing to the ill-health of the nation.
It is right to question, challenge and oppose but at some point, Miliband and his party need to lead.