Stefano Hatfield on Advertising

Yo, Blair! Hands off our junk food ads! They're not in the axis of evil
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The Independent Online

Another week, another reason to feel I'm a useless dad. This time, it's junk food ads. They are bad for us, apparently; worse for our kids. And, almost single-handedly, they are to blame for the epidemic of obesity in our nation's youth. What a load of Wotsits.

Tony Blair achieved the impossible last week. He made a speech that actually surprised Blair-watchers in both content and tone. He warned that he would introduce mandatory rules governing the airing of junk food ads if a voluntary code was deemed to have failed to work by next year.

Has he forgotten his Jamie Oliver already? Never mind junk food ads; what about the lack of funding for decent food to give to our children at school lunch-times? It's a funding policy that has made junk food the only affordable food on the menu.

Never mind the last time my girls or I saw a Burger King ad. What about the lack of funding that forces so many of the schools throughout the country to sell off school playing-fields, so reducing the opportunities for serious sports and exercise?

Never mind that a lack of education means that we all expect to be able to eat a meat and two veg for less than the cost it takes to produce and distribute it; never mind that we no longer have a clue about eating in accordance to the seasons.

Never mind, either, that my children, like yours, could say "Dad, can I have a (insert junk food brand here)?" And that I can either say no or yes to the request, just like my mother did, and her parents before her. Is anyone seriously suggesting drinks ads are to blame for the binge-drinking epidemic?

Has the Prime Minister actually ever seen a junk food ad? It is impossible to see a Pizza Hut or KFC commercial or a Domino's print ad and actually still want to consume the product.

Anyway, my kids, like yours, don't actually get to see any of these ads any longer. They fast forward them all - without fail - on the Sky+ button. They are much more likely to get a sense of what is out there by watching The Simpsons or walking the aisles in the local Tesco (shall we ban that activity to those under the age of 18?) than by watching ads on the telly.

What's more, as Jeremy Preston of the Advertising Association's Food Advertising Unit suggested last week, food advertising standards are already mandatory - they fall under the watch of Ofcom. He demanded that the Prime Minister explain himself, and his apparent public turnaround.

Well, I think I can answer for Mr Blair. Ever more conscious of his need to establish policy that may actually achieve a legacy impact, there are very few votes to be lost in attacking the ad industry. But let's not forget all the other factors involved in this issue, and also recognise the Blair Government's susceptibility to pressure groups who have managed to portray the advertising industry as part of an imaginary axis of evil. It would be naive to think that allowing curbs on food ads to be brought in would be the end of the matter, and not pave the way for a whole slippery slope of ad-restricting legislation to be introduced.

WHILE I am not sure that being de-listed by Somerfield is exactly the kiss of death for a brand, it is unlikely that the supermarket chain's decision to de-list Tango and 7-Up from its shelves suggests that their sales are in robust health. Although 7-Up has suffered from ignominious advertising for many years now, and has seen its once near-ubiquitous brand slither into obscurity, Tango is another matter altogether. It had once before been on the verge of extinction in the face of mighty competition from Coca-Cola's Fanta brand. Then, along came HHCL's "You know when you've been Tango'd" campaign, one of the most successful in advertising history. Tango and its ads passed into popular culture.

But if you lack Coke or Pepsi's clout, the truth is that you can't out-distribute Fanta, so you have to out-market it. This means not for one, two or three years, but year in year out. Tango's advertising has never really been the same since it switched to Clemmow Hornby Inge, but is that entirely the fault of the agency? It is capable, for sure - witness the Sony Balls spoof it aired this spring for its Tango Clear derivative - but it has to be briefed clearly and supported by a decent media spend.

IN ITS WISDOM, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has decided that the recent Pot Noodle campaign featuring miners digging for noodles in South Wales is not racist. Loyal readers (hello Norman) may recall last week's column about being bewildered by complaints about the BBC's "digital" face; well, this time there were 81 consumer complaints. Come on; the noodles are made by former miners, and the ad was created in consultation with them. Lighten up.

IN A SEA of C-list endorsers, sometimes a brand manages to land a genuine star to be its public face. Reebok has done just that in the past week, not once but twice. First, there was Thierry Henry defecting from Nike, while remaining with Arsenal. And then came the news that the luscious Scarlett Johansson has been snapped up to create her own "Scarlett Hearts Rbk" line for what is now the Adidas-owned sports manufacturer. So what's going on at Reebok? The clue lies in the previous sentence about Adidas.

But more curious to me is exactly why Scarlett needs the money? Of course, it is true that Woody Allen films don't pay quite as well as the rest of Hollywood. Scarlett stars in Allen's Scoop, coming soon to a screen near you - hopefully. Can't wait.

BLIMEY, JUST who is Stephen Carter's PR man? The outgoing Ofcom boss has been receiving an extraordinary amount of breathless, adulatory coverage from otherwise rather dry and earnest journalists such as The Guardian's estimable Emily Bell. And this, just because he might be leaving his regulator's job all of three months early!

Of course, the real interest lies in the implied link of this non-event with the possible departure of Charles Allen from his ITV chief executive's role.

I bumped into Carter and his wife Anna at the Stella Artois tennis tournament last month. It was a friendly encounter, but one that caused me to recall his time as chief executive at J Walter Thompson (which coincided with my being editor of Campaign). I always got the feeling that Carter was miffed with me, not least because he invariably was. My crime? Not to recognise the genius that was his stewardship of the agency, then still in Berkeley Square, alongside his equally tetchy creative director, Jaspar Shelbourne.

His need for recognition was fascinating, given his obvious ability. He even took to wearing an attention-grabbing tank-top, like that other cheery some-time agency boss, Ben Langdon. Perhaps Carter's sense of humour has improved since then. If he really is contemplating the top job at ITV (that doesn't currently exist), then he'll need one.

E-mail stefanohat1@aol.com with your favourite junk food ad moment

Hatfield's Worst In Show: Charmin

Pausing to note that I wish it had better retail distribution, I confess to liking Charmin loo paper. However, it is not a brand preference I choose to articulate publicly very often, or be defined by - unlike, say, Adidas or Häagen-Dazs.

I am certainly not interested in discussing its mechanical attributes. There are some subject areas of interest to toddlers that should end when you get to big school. I am not the sort of guy who talks about "potting the brown" or "laying a cable" and have never heard anyone in my life use any of these expressions. Ever! I sooooo don't want to watch other people articulating just such thoughts on telly in an ad. This ad is so bad it actually achieves that rarest of feats for a commercial: by association, it makes me want to stop buying the product!

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