UK’s top marketers back stricter regulations to prevent ‘bad apples’ from ‘souring’ consumer trust

While trade bodies protest the government’s plans for a junk food ad ban, the UK’s leading marketers are widely in favour of increased regulation and restrictions across potentially harmful products, new research finds.

Just a quarter (26%) of the UK’s top 50 marketing leaders believe current regulations are fit for purpose, while half support further marketing restrictions on high fat, salt and sugar foods, according to research by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM).

The majority say they would back rules similar to those for cigarettes to restrict the marketing of potentially harmful goods and services. Since 2002, companies have been completely banned from promoting tobacco products to consumers across any media.

Three-quarters (76%) would back further marketing restrictions on products that damage the environment, while 72% would back limitations on gambling and 58% on products aimed at children.

More than half (54%) are in favour of new restrictions on HFSS products, alongside 34% for alcohol.

Conducted between March and May this year, ‘The CMO 50’ report surveys the most senior marketers across the UK’s largest corporates, charities and marketing agencies. Two-thirds were drawn from in-house roles, with the remaining third from agencies.

Marketing leaders calling for restrictions on marketing may seem “counterintuitive”, as the CIM’s chief executive Chris Daly notes. However, he believes this reflects a “clear shift” in society towards purpose-driven marketing.

“Marketers have been at the forefront of helping the nation adapt to the strictures of lockdown, and in doing so have built stronger relationships with consumers,” he explains.

To prosper, a professional marketer needs clear parameters within which to work. Give them the rules and a level playing field and marketers will adapt and deliver.

Chris Daly, Chartered Institute of Marketing

Indeed, of the in-house marketing leaders surveyed, 71% believe the Covid-19 pandemic has had a positive impact on the perception of their brand.

Daly continues: “That hard-won reputational boost has the potential to accelerate economic growth as we emerge from lockdown, and professional marketers are rightly wary of loose regulatory controls allowing a few bad apples to sour the trust of consumers.”

Last week saw the UK government officially give the green light for an online and pre-watershed TV ad ban for HFSS products from 2023, a move expected to cost broadcasters more than £200m a year in revenue.

The government claims current advertising regulations are “not going far enough” to protect children from seeing a “significant amount of unhealthy food adverts on TV” and fail to take into account the increasing amount of time young people spend online.

However, with brands currently spending more than £600m annually on food advertising, the ad industry’s trade bodies have hit back against the plans, urging the government to reconsider the “draconian” and “headline chasing” policy.

Digital dangers

On top of calling for further marketing restrictions, more than half (54%) of the marketing leaders surveyed believe there is currently too little regulation of social media.

Less than half (44%) feel the protection of social media users lies outside the responsibility of marketers, while in contrast, 86% agree professional marketers should encourage social media platforms to do more to protect users.

Of those interviewed, 93% believe brands have a direct duty to pull advertising from social media platforms that fails to protect users.

Daly claims senior marketers are right to be “wary” of the dangers that “poorly policed” social media platforms may pose to the long-term growth of their brands and the wider economy.Coca-Cola, Starbucks and Unilever join growing Facebook ad boycott

“To prosper, a professional marketer needs clear parameters within which to work. Give them the rules and a level playing field and marketers will adapt and deliver,” he says.

“The UK marketing community has an opportunity to build back better by targeting spend and training on marketing channels and products that deliver greater value to our society.”

However, overall the UK’s top marketers feel positive about the future, the research finds. Prospects for their own firm over the coming year are rated at 81 out of 100 on average, despite more than half (57%) having seen marketing budgets cut over the last 15 months.

Optimism for the economy overall was rated at 62 out of 100, compared to 71 for the marketing sector. Some 52% believe the marketing sector is stronger now than it was five years ago, with only one in five (20%) claiming it to be weaker.