Stefano Hatfield on Advertising

We must get our retaliation in first if Gary Lineker is kicked into touch
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The Independent Online

o one ever lost friends, money or votes attacking the advertising industry. It is an easy target because of its lack of real muscle, and its practitioners' poor image among the wider public.

Bear that in mind while we digest the full implications of the threat of a $2bn (£1.1bn) lawsuit against Kellogg and Nickelodeon in the US, and get used to the disquiet over the once-sainted Gary Lineker's Walkers Crisps commercials. This is one of those suits over there that appear to be frivolous, but ends up having extraordinary knock-on effects over here.

Two pressure groups - the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood - are threatening to sue Nickelodeon and Kellogg for promoting unhealthy - that is, sugary - cereals in commercial airtime during the SpongeBob SquarePants children's show.

They claim the advertising is "deceptive" and "unfair" because children are not even aware that they are commercials, and kids are being encouraged to eat foods that are "just not good for them". The CSPI said it counted 168 ads for food on the Nickelodeon channel in autumn 2005, of which 88 were for foods "with poor nutritional value". It wants to ban the marketing of the latter to children aged eight and under. Meanwhile, the UK Food Standards Agency is proposing bans on the use of celebrities and cartoon characters to endorse junk food here, among other restrictions. I find this pressure-group interference scary. As a parent of a nine- and an eight-year-old, I have to ask exactly who these children are who can't tell the difference between a SpongeBob programme and a commercial? Those I know can both draw attention to an ad they like or hate, and happily fast forward or not on the Sky+ and TiVo.

Are we blaming big bad advertising for our own physical, mental and moral failings and sheer laziness as parents? There are shades of the tobacco and alcohol restrictions all over again. They, too, were not taken seriously once.

It is a poignant story, coming as it did in the same week as the death of 20-year-old Scott Martin as a result of his refusal ever to eat anything but white bread, Lurpak and chips (preferably McDonald's fries) - bar the occasional baked bean. Martin suffered cirrhosis of the liver and bleeding caused by malnutrition, exacerbated when doctors removed three of his infected teeth.

His mother was understandably distraught at losing her son so young - but what was going on at home and at school during his development, in which his typically childish aversion to some foods became a pathological refusal to eat anything else?

Whenever an agency conducts market research among parents on this issue, the response is the same: it is the responsibility of parents to teach their children to eat healthily, just as it is to teach them to walk and talk and not beat up Johnny next door.

I'm a near-rabid anti-smoker, but I still can't see why advertising a supposedly legal product should be banned, given all the built-in health warnings. In the 2000s, it is impossible for any smoker to claim ignorance of the health risks of smoking.

The same goes for parents and junk food. It's lazy to point to the low cost of junk food. Good food is now affordable for all. Instead, it is laziness and stubbornness that allow parents to abnegate their responsibilities.

Banning Gary Lineker ads will achieve nothing in the face of parents who continue to refuse to "just say no". That doesn't mean that the pressure groups will desist. The advertising must be sure to get its retaliation in first.

IF EVER there was an agency that did not deserve to lose a client, it is the troubled Lowe London in relation to the upcoming global review of its Stella Artois brand. Over the past decade or more, Lowe has taken a relative obscure Belgian beer and turned it into one of the largest grocery brands in Britain while retaining its premium status, albeit using mostly French imagery. To achieve this, it created one of the more daring strategies of recent years: "Reassuringly expensive." Few mass-market brands make a virtue of their high cost.

Lowe brought this to life in a succession of wonderful commercials and print ads, ever since the campaign launched with a memorable pastiche of Jean de Florette. The review, despite this astonishing success, is yet another sad example of how global corporations like InBev now view advertising as just another commodity purchase.

WHEN WILL the InterPublic Group learn? The master of shooting-itself-in-the-foot PR, IPG is now threatening legal action against Sir Frank Lowe and his fledgling no-name agency. Whether gardening leave periods should be enforced or not, and whether IPG in return is guilty of tortuous, or even tortious, interference, IPG seems blind to a hard fact; the much-admired Tesco marketing chief Tim Mason had to be fed up with IPG/old Lowe to move his account to new Lowe. He can stick his account where he likes. Which he has done. Lawsuits won't un-bungle last year's mismanagement of the Tesco account.

HOT ON the heels of the appalling Ford Graduate spoof comes an ad that is arguably even worse: the Renault Scenic commercial in which the car acts like a dog. This may be one of the most cloying and irritating commercials I have ever seen - especially the bit with the windscreen wipers. Come on, Publicis, you can do better than this.

ONE CAR marketing director who has genuinely tried to improve the quality of a dire sector is Julie Roehm, the quite remarkable 35-year-old American who has for the past three years been in charge of Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep's $2bn advertising budget, having previously launched the Ford Focus in the US. Clearly a sucker for glamour locations, this dynamic bombshell personality in designer business suits and patent cowgirl boots is swapping dreary Detroit for the top marketing job at Wal-Mart in the wilds of Bentonville, Arizona (also home to the meat giant Tyson Foods).

Having shared barbecued turkey legs and corn dogs with Roehm as her guest at a redneck Nascar race in Richmond, Virginia, and too many glasses of champagne with her from Manhattan to Miami, I know she can shine in any and every situation.

However, she will need all her considerable charm and mental toughness as she tries to reposition "the evil empire". Let's hope she does not go over to the dark side in the process. If her job is really as global as her new job title suggests, Asda marketers here and Publicis will soon feel "the force".

If you think Gary Lineker should be banned, e-mail stefanohat1@aol.com

HATFIELD'S BEST IN SHOW: HONDA CIVIC

The UK ad industry occasionally produces a commercial that is so jaw-droppingly good that an entire living room can be mesmerised every time it comes on the telly. The new Honda Civic commercial is just such a commercial. It features a massed choir mimicking every sound the car makes from the engine starting up to it passing through a tunnel to (my favourite) rain falling on the windscreen. If anything it is even better than its astonishingly good predecessors like "cog" and "grr". However, the last "impossible dream" spot has been ruined by constant repetition in a ten-second cut-down form. I never saw the full version on air after writing about it. So Honda, if you and Wieden & Kennedy go to all the time, money and effort to remind us that advertising is an applied art form, don't throw it all away by skimping on the media spend.

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