Claire Beale on advertising

The future's bleak - if the moral minorities get their way, that is

How highly appropriate that a year dominated by threats to advertising freedoms should end with another jab to adland's underbelly.

Yep, the year of the junk-food ad ban is going out with a last-minute punch at advertising to children, setting the stage for round two of the adland versus moral minority fight-to-the-death. You'll remember the recent ruling outlawing the advertising of unhealthy foods to our little ones on TV; even those little ones that are old enough to legally have sex are to be shielded from the evils of the hamburger.

But if you thought such madness must surely stop there, think again. Now advertising is under fire for grooming our innocents for a lifetime of consumerism.

According to the left-wing think-tank Compass, advertising is breeding a generation of stressed-out, unconfident kids whose value systems are determined by the appearances and possessions portrayed in ads.

From product placement, to merchandising, text messaging, internet pop-ups, gaming, competitions and good old-fashioned between-the-eyes advertising, kids cannot escape commercial messages, Compass says. In fact, they reckon that UK children see an average 20,000-40,000 television ads a year, and by the age of 10 children can recall 300-400 brands. That's 20 times the number of wild birds they can name. It may be a ridiculous comparison, but doesn't it make you feel a tiny bit uncomfortable? My favourite stat, though, is Compass's statement that 70 per cent of three-year-olds recognise the McDonald's symbol, but only half of them know their own surname.

Compass couldn't have picked a better time of year to launch their "commercialisation of childhood campaign". Who can dispute their insistence that "Marketers are coming up with ever more ingenious methods to infuse children's lives with advertising messages". It's Christmas, for heaven's sake. Adland hasn't got a leg to stand on. Is there a child in the land who hasn't been studying the ad breaks on TV, letter to Santa in hand?

A few years ago, none of this would have mattered. Compass's campaign would have been dismissed as the rantings of a PC minority, and the proliferation of ads for toys would have been a sign of a healthy consumer economy in the run-up to the year's busiest marketing period. But in the year that advertising junk food to children was banned from our TV screens, any fresh assault on marketing has chilling implications. Be in no doubt, the pressure on all forms of advertising will gather pace, and adland must strengthen its defence. The thin end of the wedge has already gone.

IF ADVERTISING regulation, and the threat of more to come, has been a dramatic black cloud over adland's 2006, there have still been plenty of highs that should send the industry off on holiday with real confidence for the challenges ahead.

Here, then, are my picks of the year: the stuff that should make everyone in this business proud to do what they do.

Some great ads: Fallon's "Paint" for Sony Bravia (not as good as "Balls"? Still the best ad of the year, any which way). The Marks & Spencer campaign by Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/ Y&R, great for M&S (food sales up 9.2 per cent, clothes up 190.7 per cent) and great for an ad industry desperate to prove the value of what it does.

The DDB Harvey Nichols campaign, perfect collision of style and substance. Saatchi & Saatchi's "pub football team" for Carlsberg, not necessarily the best World Cup ad ever, but a damn fine try (and if you haven't seen the full-length version, check it out on YouTube). And Nike's St Wayne poster by Wieden & Kennedy, featuring the man himself, daubed with white and red paint, as the St George's cross.

The Boots ads by Mother, beautiful films for a shabby store. W&K Amsterdam's "vending machine fantasy" for Coke, just magical. The WCRS 3 ads, as weird and luscious as ever. Dare's "blow" online ad for Lynx, taking sexy to a digital dimension.

Some great talent: the Mother team, 10 years old and still fresh and exciting. The Engine group, could Peter Scott have found the new communications model? Fallon, great thinkers (Lawrence Green), great creatives (the soon to be disbanded creative leadership of Andy McLeod and Richard Flintham) and the ringmasters Michael Wall and Robert Senior, whose enthusiasm is infectious.

(Trevor) Beattie, (Andrew) McGuinness and (Bil) Bungay, last year's start-up team that turned in a great performance this year (the gauntlet for 2007: more great work). James Murphy and the RKCR/Y&R crew for creating that rarest of beasts: a great creative and new business machine that also happens to be part of an international network.

And some excitingly dramatic events: my predecessor in this column slot, Stefano Hatfield, kick-starting the free newspaper war with the launch of thelondonpaper. Robert Campbell and Jim Kelly joining forces at United - it might not have worked so far, but now there's the chance to start again and shape their own agency. United's Steve Henry was drafted in to help resuscitate TBWA: expect much furious blowing in 2007.

Talking of United, the Sky creative pitch saw the £75 million account slip through Sir Martin Sorrell's fingers and into WCRS. The rebranding of Ogilvy & Mather as two shops, Mather Communications being the new, lean outfit; expect more from the mighty Ogilvy group next year... Has the giant awoken?

Garry Lace being suspended from, and then leaving, Lowe under a career-defining cloud; Amanda Walsh accepting the Lowe chalice and putting her career on the line in doing so. M&C Saatchi's Nick Hurrell and TBWA's Neil Dawson getting the entrepreneurial bug and starting up what they claim will be the agency approach of the future. WCRS parting with Stephen Woodford, who wants to do an Engine at DDB, but instead has been sitting in his garden for months. Draft and FCB merging to create a hybrid that sounds like it should be an interesting model for the future, but so far feels identity-less.

And all this against a backdrop of client conservatism, the digital revolution and a real sense that adland is on the brink of fundamental, irreversible change.

It's been a busy 12 months, and 2007 is set to be even busier. Happy Christmas.

BEALE'S BEST IN SHOW: COI SEXUAL HEALTH

'Tis the season to cop off, as any singleton knows. But as the UK's sexy young things iron their Calvins and pile on the war paint for a bit of Yuletide action, the Department of Health is on a condom offensive.

A new multi-media campaign by Delaney Lund Knox Warren and Grand Union aims to cut the rate of sexually transmitted infections among 18- to 24-year-olds. It's all built around the idea of steamy sex, punctuated by reminders of all the nasty diseases that can be caught if the bloke goes in unjacketed.

So the TV ad has a randy couple canoodling in a bar. They end up in bed together, but the brand labels in their discarded clothes aren't fashion labels - they're the names of STDs. Online there are skyscraper ads with a pair of sexy legs and the invitation to "roll over to see what I've got". The woman then spreads her legs to reveal the word gonorrhoea emblazoned across her knickers.

It's an effective ad - at first viewing, anyway - because you're expecting some high fashion or perfume brand to be paraded, so there's a real shock value to the reveal. And with the seasonal heady concoction of booze and flirtation, the scenarios portrayed are top of many young people's Christmas wish list. I suspect, however, that an awful lot of the target market have little idea what gonorrhoea is or what's it's like, so the fear factor is not as great as it should be.

Even so, the ads make it pretty clear that the steamy clinch under the mistletoe could result in one Christmas present you really don't want. You have been warned.

Claire Beale is editor of 'Campaign'.

claire.beale@haymarket.com

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