A Parliamentary forum for Media and Marketing Debate
Advertising and the quality of life
“I passionately believe that advertising is an overwhelmingly positive part of our lives and
society in the UK”. These were the words with which Tess Alps, Chief Executive Officer,
ThinkBox, opened the Debating Group debate at the House of Commons on 9 July 2007,
proposing the motion, „Advertising does much to improve the quality of life in the UK‟. The
debate was sponsored by ITV and chaired by John Greenway, MP for Ryedale.
Tess Alps declared that she was tired of advertising being used as a scapegoat for some of society‟s genuine problems and increasingly angry at the distorted arguments used by its opponents. At its most basic,
advertising is about providing people with the information they need about products and services. People
want to know what to buy and why product A is better than products B-D. People don‟t just consume
advertising but use it themselves to sell their unwanted fridges or to publicise that they have lost their cat.
They find new jobs through advertising and sometimes the love of their life. “Some of you are here tonight
because the debate was advertised”. She had bought tickets for Cosi Fan Tutte because of an ad and new
Ariel tablets that work at 10 degrees cooler because she had seen an ad. Without advertising she would not
have known about this innovative product that Procter and Gamble have launched in response to the need to
combat global warming. Without advertising, their investment would not have been rewarded and they
would be making less profit and be less able to invest in more new product development.
The creation of wealth and profit is fundamental to the operation of our economy. Profits matter to all of us,
not just shareholders. They encourage job creation and efficiency and innovation in business and industry.
Most of us have pensions that are dependent on the maintenance of profits. Companies that advertise
themselves are almost always more successful and profitable, with higher market shares, than those that do
not. Marks and Spencer did many things to turn the company around, but without advertising this would
have gone unnoticed. Tess Alps quoted the Marketing Director, Stephen Sharpe, saying, “It would have been
like winking at a girl in the dark”. Moreover without company profits there would be substantially less tax
income and without that all our public services would be in serious trouble.
Advertising promotes choice and competition, and competition keeps prices lower. Advertising enables new
exciting products to be launched into a market to challenge the established players: without advertising,
Innocent Drinks or Greene and Black chocolate, for instance, would not have been able to inform consumers
about the properties of their products and give them that choice.
Tess Alps went on to point out that the British advertising industry is a big contributor to GDP in its own
right. The creative industries contribute 8% to UK GDP, growing at twice the average rate and advertising is
the third largest of these. Advertising also impacts on all the other creative industries in the UK. It employs
the skills of just about every creative sector: writers, actors, musicians, designers, photographers, editors,
film producers. Advertising pioneers new creative techniques which then get taken up in the wider creative
world. The entire supply chain in the creative industries is nourished and stimulated by their commercial
activities. However, this is nothing compared with the irreplaceable contribution that advertising revenues
make directly to publishing, broadcasting and film. Advertising expenditure reached ?19 billion in the UK
last year. It entirely supports ITV, C4, C5 and their families of digital channels, Classic FM, LBC, Capital
and all other commercial radio stations, Metro The London Paper, scores of regional and local free-sheets
and almost every commercial Internet site. Even those media that charge subscriptions or cover prices could
never in all but a couple of instances, survive on just that income. In fact, advertising is contributing a greater
and greater percentage of media companies‟ income each year as consumers demand more free media.
The underpinning that advertising provides extends to most of our sporting and many cultural endeavours.
Sport is hugely dependent on sponsorship income. That income would not be forthcoming without exposure
through TV and TV pays sporting bodies mostly out of its advertising income for the rights to broadcast the
Nobody wants to see irresponsible advertising, including the overwhelming majority of advertisers.
Advertising operates under a very successful co-regulation system. It adapts to changes in society so that it
reflects current moral attitudes. What it does not do, and should not do, is knee-jerk to the agenda of single
People positively like advertising. Brands created and sustained by advertising, make choices easier and give
consumers trust in the products they are buying. People buy some glossy magazines more for the ads than the
editorial; they appreciate the way outdoor advertising both brightens up the urban landscape and gives them
stimulation as they wait for a tube or bus. Nearly 40% of them like TV ads as much as the programmes and
four of the Top Ten downloads on Youtube are TV ads. But most of all, people value the enormous array of
quality media that advertising makes available to them for free and they appreciate the culture and
information that advertising supports.
Tess Alps concluded that we would all be poorer, both financially and culturally without advertising.
Cynicism and triviality
Opposing the motion Professor Gerard Hastings, Director of the Institute of Social Marketing, Stirling
University, regretted that in a parliament where William Wilberforce delivered his resounding attack on
slavery, Winston Churchill implored us to fight fascism and Nye Bevan launched the National Health
Service, we are being asked to laud Ronald McDonald, Tony the Tiger and the Marlboro Man. He argued
that this flies in the face of evidence of the harm done by advertising to our morals, our health and our planet.
He quoted dictionary definitions of advertising „to promote goods or services publicly to encourage people to
buy or use them (Oxford); „to present or praise (goods, a service etc.) to the public in order to encourage sales‟ (Collins). Professor Hastings stressed that he was not talking about health promotion and road safety
messages or about job ads and snips which are essential and beneficial human activities. He was talking
about the efforts of the corporate sector to co-opt every form of communication humankind has concocted
and use it to sell us their products and services. He quoted Peter Chernin, News Corps Chief Operating
Officer, when it acquired MySpace, “We‟ve just scratched the surface of how to monetise it”. This
„monetising‟, the debasing of cyberspace and the many other forms of human communication, is a ?20
billion a year business in the UK alone.
Professor Hastings presented three reasons why he opposed the motion:
? Government enquiry after government enquiry has shown the citizens of adland to be a venal and
? Solid evidence had established that advertising is doing real harm to the health of the most
? Advertising is the engine of superfluous consumption; it is simply not sustainable.
Professor Hastings quoted his experience in 2000 when the Health Select Committee undertook its enquiry
into tobacco companies and their advertising agencies. He cited a report produced by himself and Lynn
MacFadyen, analysing internal documents from the tobacco industry‟s main UK advertising agencies entitled
„Keep smiling. No one‟s going to die‟ to illustrate its cynicism and lack of respect for the consumer. History
repeated itself with the food industry in 2003. Again there was a massive and damning report. The internal
documents of the industry revealed that not only was it exploiting pester power it is such a commonplace that
there is an industry standard to measure it. In a campaign evaluation conducted by a leading UK research
agency, success was assessed by comparison with UK standards for food and non-food animatics.
Companies also recruit people with a track record in „pester power‟. He quoted from a recruitment ad:
„Cocopops, fruit winders, cereal and milk bars, Frosties are just some of the fun brands you will need to get
under the skin of in this role. Here you will spend your time understanding children, finding out what
interests them, establishing which other brands they associate with and appreciating the realms of pester
power”. “So much for informed consumer choice”, declared Professor Hastings.
He maintained that there is clear evidence that advertising is harming people‟s health. He believed there was
no doubt that tobacco advertising drives smoking and that there is similar evidence to show the effect of
advertising on fast foods, both at the brand and category level. The evidence has led the UK government,
along with nearly three dozen other countries around the world, to ban tobacco advertising and restrain junk
food advertisers from targeting kindergarten children.
Professor Hastings pointed to the amount of consumption promoted in a finite world. Advertising is harming
the planet. He contended that it is the acceptable face of a deeply flawed system that depends on spiralling
consumption to keep going. He quoted Sergio Zyman, Former CMO of Coca Cola, “The purpose of
marketing is to sell more product, to more people, more often at a higher price. There is no other reason to do
it”. Furthermore, its priorities are driven by the market, so are all too often, trivial and wasteful. “Take
pharmaceuticals, where the whims of our rich 20% of the world‟s population will always trump the much
more pressing needs of the other 80%. The whole of Africa is just 1.3% of the market”. Of the 1,400 new
drugs developed between 1975 and 1999 only 13 were designed to treat tropical diseases. Similarly in 2000
there were eight new treatments for erectile dysfunction, seven for baldness, but none for TB. “Or take the four-wheel drive – the Freelander, the Tuareg, the Cherokee, the Warrior, the Longhorn. Selling us the
outdoors, whilst simultaneously helping us to destroy it”. Professor Hastings argued, “As the earth warms,
climate changes and the oceans rise, we cannot afford to encourage such profligacy”.
Professor Hastings argued that the proposers of the motion, far from having us take action against these
transgressions, want to applaud and reward them. He concluded, “They think we still live among the red braces and materialism of the ‟80s and ‟90s. They want us, here in the cradle of democratic debate and
freedom, to pay tribute to deception and exploitation”.
Force for good
Seconding the motion, Claire Beale, Editor of Campaign, the magazine of the advertising industry, declared unequivocally that she loved advertising for the wonderfully stimulating, motivating and inspiring people
that work in it and she is extremely proud that the UK ad industry leads the world in creative excellence. She
is also proud of the contribution her industry makes to our national economic health, contributing along with
other artistic industries almost ?6 billion to our GDP.
She cited the many contributions of advertising to our economic and cultural life:
? Advertising creates jobs. Advertising sells products. No sales, no jobs. More sales, more jobs. And
highly successful advertising allows companies to make money to invest in the future, so jobs now,
? Advertising creates media. Two-thirds of what we watch on TV is paid for by advertising. In the UK
we have 3,000 magazines covering everything from pregnancy to fast cars and knitting. All are co-
funded by advertising. The Internet is free to use because it‟s heavily funded by advertising. Our
national newspapers, arguably the best in the world, are diverse, opinionated and independent: they
would not exist without advertising revenue to fund them.
? Consumer choice. Advertising allows us to differentiate between products, to choose the best, the
greenest, the most cost-effective. As consumers we love choice, we just need a little help in choosing.
That‟s what advertising does.
? Advertising is entertaining. The best ads are wonderfully creative, entertaining and amusing.
Claire Beale went on to discuss advertising in the context of her role as a wife and mother of two small
children. She is determined that her children should grow up in a society that has freedom as its core – law-
abiding freedom of speech, freedom of thought and freedom of action. “I am determined that my children
grow up feeling responsibility for themselves and their actions and don‟t grow up believing that the
consequence of what they do are actually someone else‟s responsibility. I want them to grow up as good
citizens in a free but responsible society”. Her children do watch TV and see ads. But they understand that
they can‟t have everything they see. And they understand that they can‟t have chocolate for every meal.
“They understand these things because I understand that it‟s my job as a parent to make sure they‟re healthy,
take plenty of exercise and know what the right limits are”. As a mother she sees that advertising plays a
key role in shaping our society, her children‟s society, for the better. She declared that she was certainly not
there to laud Tony the Tiger, but to prove that advertising can improve our lives.
Claire Beale pointed out that the government is the UK‟s third biggest advertiser, spending ?140 million on
advertising last year. Some of the good causes that it advertised last year were:
? Adult literacy skills
? Army recruitment
? Cancer research
? Drugs awareness
? Child Support Agency
? Fire safety
? The Disability Discrimination Act
? The Energy Savings Trust
? Crime Prevention
? Anti-domestic violence
? The Deal for lone parents
? Safe Sex
? Police Recruitment
? Social Work careers.
In addition she pointed to the many charities which would fail if it were not for the donations they raised via
advertising. Charities spent ?74 million on advertising last year and without the money this raised charities
like Great Ormond Street Hospital, Unicef, the NSPCC and Macmillan Cancer Relief would not be able to
help all the people they do.
Claire Beale concluded by stressing that advertising can be a true force for good, improving our quality of
life, helping save lives and making us better citizens. “What‟s more the freedom to advertise is part and
parcel of a free society. Surely freedom of all kinds is what our nations had fought for centuries to defend”.
She would like her children to be part of a free, responsible and caring society. “If you believe in that form of freedom, advertising improves the quality of our lives”.
Seconding the opposition, Willie Sullivan, Chairman, Compass Scotland, believed that the motion posed the
question of whether advertising does more to improve than it does to detract from the quality of life in the
UK. Acknowledging that advertising has done something to improve the quality of life, he argued that a
crucial point is whether advertising is about giving us information on choices we make in the marketplace or
does it affect and change the way we understand and see the world and most importantly ourselves and each
other? He suggested that none would disagree that advertising changes behaviour of individuals.
“Advertising changes the actions of individuals in a pretty powerful manner and as every action is born in
thought, then we must also agree that it changes the way people think”.
Willie Sullivan pointed out that most advertising messaging is not merely about the materiality of products.
Advertising is seldom comparative in any meaningful way and it seldom has a top line message concerning
the functionality of the product. Advertising and therefore consumption have become about identity, about
status, about who we are, and about the lives we aspire to live.
Another point of consensus must be that advertising is ubiquitous and becoming more so. In the UK we
maybe see, at a conservative estimate, 500 messages every day. Some people are concerned that we are
heading for a future advertising presence like that depicted in the movie Minority Report with screens
everywhere. With screens already the focal point of most private homes and in nearly every teenager‟s
bedroom the further colonization of public space by the market is an issue of consolidation, not a
revolutionary step forward.
Willie Sullivan presented two propositions:
? That advertising relies on influencing perception and insecurities and hopes about ourselves: it sells
us an idea of „the good life‟ and a „not good life‟
? That advertising is everywhere to the extent that it physically forms our world as well as being a
large feature in the landscape of our minds.
Arguing that advertising affects us at a fundamental level, Willie Sullivan described some mechanisms and considered what it is to be human. We have, to varying degrees, aspirations in social, material and sexual fields. We require social status, relationships and the respect of our peers. We require material security and have sexual needs and wants. Some of us also believe there is a spiritual element to humanity, perhaps where truth, beauty and love reside. In all of these we have desires and fears. Desire for what we want and fears for what we might lose or might not get. And these are the basic buttons that advertising pushes.
Most societies have always given high status to those who create wealth but the crossover between material; security, social status and sexual success have been increasingly fused by the need to sell products. It is the heightening of these responses and the dulling of others which is of concern.
The key messages of advertising communicated through powerful images of setting and context as well as language are that consuming a particular product will make you more popular, sexy and cool and not having it will make you less so.
“Why is this a problem?” asked Willie Sullivan. He suggested that advertising sensitizes and accentuates our desires and fears in a way that amplifies the role of the material in our social, sexual and spiritual aspirations. He feared that such a dominant cultural focus on material acquisition has caused other parts of what it is to be human to atrophy by neglect. “So values such as caring, honour, integrity, respect, honesty, trust and
service have been devalued because in the „get more stuff game‟ they are at best neutral and they may even put you at a disadvantage”. If these values get in the way of prosperity and economic growth, are we better to discard them?
Willie Sullivan pointed out that we are now starting to see the effects of that disregard on our society. We are in what Compass has described in its book, The Good Society, a social recession, because values such as trust,
integrity, service and caring are the values that help us live together in a rewarding and fulfilling way. Without them our relationships to each other are diminished and in many cases are starting to break down. He argued that this dominance of market values over social values has led us into a social recession. And advertising is the main, although sometimes unconscious propagandist for these values.
Willie Sullivan suggested that perhaps the most distressing result of a market view of the world is that we seem to have forgotten that we are predominantly social beings. That it is our relationships, our friendships, our families, and our connections to one another that fulfil us the most. And as we have forgotten this, as we refocus on getting more stuff, often as a misguided attempt to strengthen relationships, we have all become a little less happy and a little bit sadder.
This power to shape values is most influential when aimed at our children, and as a long-term strategy it is highly effective. Because as each generation becomes more attuned to consumption and the mores of the market, parents see littler wrong with what have now become their values being sold to their children through an advertiser‟s view of the „good life‟. In Sweden where it is unlawful to advertise to children under
12 it is thought obscene to try and manipulate youngsters to buy products. Not so in the Anglo-Saxon World. Willie Sullivan quoted Nancy Shalek, President of the Shalek agency, once described as LA‟s hottest ad agency:
“Advertising at its best is making people feel that without their product, you‟re a loser. Kids are very sensitive to that. If you tell them to buy something they are resistant. But if you tell them they‟ll be a dork if they don‟t, you‟ve got their attention. You open up emotional vulnerabilities and it‟s very easy to do with kids because they are the most emotionally vulnerable”.
Willie Sullivan concluded, “This targeting of children, this grooming for consumption has tipped the scales against a positive view of advertising. Leave our children alone and it may tip back again”.
Discussion from the floor
For the motion
? The contributor had been engaged in a big study on public perception of advertising which had
revealed a highly positive view of advertising held by the public. Some of the findings were: people
found advertising entertaining; it helped their social interaction by giving them something to discuss;
it provided information about new products and life would be boring without it.
The opposers of the motion are being demeaning to consumers. Advertising that misleads is not
anything that we would support. Advertising undoubtedly supports people‟s quality of life.
? The contributor argued that advertising changes public opinion and how people respond to situations.
The Full Stop Campaign against child abuse changed public opinion from ignoring children‟s
screams and children themselves from submitting to abuse. The campaign educated the public and
? The contributor suggested that if we did not have advertising and communications about aspirations,
we would not want to aspire. Professor Hastings wants to keep us in the dark. Our quality of life
would not be so good if things were not communicated. Communication is not just about products,
but telling us about other things that are available.
Without advertising the only being that would know about better mousetraps would be the dead mice.
? In response to Professor Hastings‟ remark about Churchill, the contributor reminded the audience of
wartime advertising eg „Careless talks costs lives‟, „Dig for Victory‟.
? The contributor suggested that the speaker who asked for examples of advertising improving quality
of life might consider that the evening spent at the debate, which had been advertised had
contributed to his quality of life.
? The contributor pointed out that in countries where advertising is not allowed, the quality of life is
? The contributor asked who would control „getting to market‟ if there was no advertising?
Against the motion
? The contributor emphasized „much‟ in the title of the motion. Advertising does some of the positive
things we have heard about. He pointed out that large advertisers spend large sums of money as
barriers to entry for smaller advertisers. This discouraged choice. He questioned whether the
saturation of the big brands did much to improve quality of life.
He also questioned whether the large amount of money spent on advertising by charities might be
better spent in other ways and wondered about the fate of smaller charities which could not afford to
spend on advertising.
He criticized advertising pressure at Christmas which made children feel they wanted the „must-
have‟ present and inferior if they had not got the latest gear.
Councils have to spend a lot of money clearing away discarded free-sheets.
If the Sunday papers did not have so much advertising we would not have so many useless inserts.
Advertising certainly introduces new products, but whether it does much to enhance quality of life is
? The contributor wanted examples of how advertising had contributed to his quality of life.
? The contributor pointed out that the creative service sector was changing. Advertising support for
print journalism was declining in the US because of competition from other media. Advertising
sometimes helps people working in creative services, but not always.
Summing up for the opposition Professor Hastings pointed out that he had already explained that advertising was addling our morals, killing our children and wrecking the planet and Willie Sullivan had
gone on to show how adland was corrupting the young and turning us into cynical materialists. In defence of
all this harm, on the other side of the scales has been placed information, the existence of suitable controls
and money. He stressed that he was not talking about charities but the power base of large corporate
companies. Such companies owned two-thirds of the media and Richard Murdoch was not a reassuring
perspective. “Are we comfortable that these powerful companies are having free shots at our children?”, he asked.
Professor Hastings accepted that controls were in place but argued that co-regulation was a comforting
phrase – it helped to rearrange the deckchairs, whilst ignoring the icebergs. The regulations controlled the
content of advertising, but not the amount. He suggested that controls were subject to cynicism and quoted
from a Campaign article on the Committee of Advertising Practice‟s report on junk food: “It doesn‟t take a
genius... to spot the weasel words, the obvious fudges and the potential anomalies just waiting to emerge”.
He suggested that we are pretending that we are defending the tiny number of smaller companies. We need
clear controls on fast food advertising. He saw advertising as providing freedom for very rich people to get
Advertising was certainly profitable. It was worth ?20 billion a year. “It is indeed a long way from Soho
Square to Albert Square”. And those who work in advertising are well-rewarded. As well as money Soho
Square‟s inhabitants get countless plaudits e.g. the various industry awards: IPA, D&AD; Art Directors
Annual Awards, FAB, CLIO. Professor Hastings suggested that the inhabitants of adland need no
He quoted a report from Benson & Hedges which he felt was demeaning to consumers. “We want to see Great, British B & H in the Ben Sherman shirt pockets of Brit-popped dance-crazed, Tequila drinking, Nike
kicking, Fast Show watching, Loaded reading, Babe pulling young gentleman”. He and his co-writer
concluded, “One is left with the inescapable conclusion that, given the greatest threat to public health this
country has faced since the great plague, these people are having fun, making money and showing absolutely
no concern for the consequences of their actions”. Professor Hastings suggested that this is what advertisers are adding to British life.
Summing up for the motion Tess Alps asked the audience to imagine a world without advertising. It would be a grey, puritanical world, with no newspapers, magazines and only state-owned TV and radio. How would
democracy fare in a world where the only news voice heard by most people was from the state-funded and
controlled broadcaster? Maybe this is a world which the opposers of the motion yearn for – a world where
money is a dirty word. A world like Eastern Europe before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
She asked: “How would charities seek donations, how would teachers, soldiers, nurses, doctors and police
officers be recruited? How would theatres, concerts and cinemas let people know about their productions?
How would we encourage people to recycle, to drive sensibly, to fill in their tax returns on time? All the
above causes have benefited from recent distinctive and highly successful advertising campaigns. This
motion is about the totality of advertising, not just those sectors on which the opposers want to concentrate.
Tessa Alps commented, “The speaker from the floor suggested that because some people can‟t afford some
of the products advertised it‟s better that they don‟t know about these products. Does anyone else find that a
deeply sinister bit of social engineering”?
On the subject of childhood obesity Ofcom‟s analysis of the problem concluded that advertising‟s effect was
only 2% of the problem. “What makes me really angry with the single interest groups is that by focusing on
the 2% of the problem, the other 98% is let off the hook”. Advertisers were only too happy to work with
government to reform advertising content and scheduling without the need for bans which impact directly on
children‟s TV. The cost to UK-originated children‟s TV production has been catastrophic. Children‟s cultural diets matter just as much as their nutritional ones. Children have been watching ads for sweets since
the 1950s. The things that have changed are the reduction in playgrounds and a culture of inadequate
discipline. Jamie Oliver‟s school dinner campaign was funded by advertising.
Education and information for parents about nutrition would help and advertising could and should be one of
the powerful solutions to this issue, as it has proved to be for tobacco and drugs education. If there is a
consumer demand for different types of products, manufacturers and retailers will certainly respond – indeed
are doing so already – but they then need to be able to advertise the newly-formulated ranges. Willie Sullivan
talked about advertising feeding on insecurities, but Tessa Alps maintained that that is what the opposition
tried to do. On body image the most positive force in recent years has been the Dove campaign.
No one would disagree with the statement that books improve the quality of life in the UK. But there might
be individual books that you personally dislike or even think harmful: Mein Kampf maybe, or perhaps a
Jeffrey Archer novel. Advertising is no different, an overwhelmingly positive force for good. And the motion
Tess Alps was asking the audience to support is about what advertising contributes overall, not about one
isolated aspect of it.
Without advertising our economy would be stagnant and uncompetitive. Our democracy would be weakened
with an ill-informed population. Our creative life would be much reduced, constrained and limited. Tessa
Alps asked the audience to recall the pride the nation shared when several British films were nominated and
went on to win Academy Awards this year. The Queen, which won several BAFTAs and for which Helen Mirren won an Oscar was an ITV film. Venus and The Last King of Scotland, for which Forrest Whitaker won his Oscar, were Channel 4 films, so in fact our Oscars came directly from an investment of TV
Tess Alps concluded by suggesting that everybody‟s lives, even those of the opposers, would be pretty
miserable without the wide array of benefits that advertising enables.
The motion was overwhelmingly carried by a show of hands.
thThe next debate will take place on Monday 29 October 2007, sponsored by JICREG. Details from Debating
Group Secretary, Doreen Blythe (Tel: 020 8994 9177) e-mail: email@example.com