Tom Watson’s Still Fighting Tony

A decade has passed and still Tom Watson is still fighting Tony, this time it is Tony the Tiger who promotes Kellogg’s Frosties because they’re “grrrrreat”. This morning he told a gathering of advertising industry executives that “this failed advertising executive* loves your industry… and the Labour Party wants to do everything we can to support your success.“ He then told them to “Get that monkey off our packs. Get cartoon characters off advertising for high sugar foods… if you don’t I promise you the next Labour government will.” Which doesn’t seem very supportive of advertising…

The Shadow DCMS minister also asked if political advertising needs to come under the Advertising Standards Authority’s regulatory umbrella. Guido has practical and philosophical problems with that, firstly the ASA is not a regulator, it is a politically driven trade group that has no statutory powers. Nor should it.

Secondly it is the job of the voters to choose between liars who want to be elected. The idea that there could be some apolitical body that decides what is true in politics is nonsense, that is why we have democracy. Could an advertising regulator rule on claims as to whether tax cuts or more government spending will boost the economy? That is a political choice, not a matter of absolute truth.

Thirdly, Labour’s attack line against the advertising industry is a wilful misunderstanding of the true nature of the obesity problem in the UK. Lifestyle choices are the cause, not advertising. Banning promotional characters will not in itself get people off their screens and sofas. Left-of-centre politicians around the world are antipathetic to advertising because instinctively they know it is the propaganda arm of capitalism, it enables and encourages consumer choice in a free society. Advertising informs consumers and enhances competition, it lubricates capitalism…

An attack on advertising is, in effect, an attack on free speech. While commercial free speech may not be valued as highly by some as other forms of free speech, it should, nevertheless, be defended as an important principle. The advertising industry needs to defend itself strongly, something that the ASA cuckoos will never do…

*Tom Watson remind the ad execs he was once a junior account manager at an advertising agency in London where they “operated on the margins of creativity and the seedy world of direct mail…I loved the absolute bullshit of it all .. that experience helped me greatly in my job as a politician.” No further questions m’lud.


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