30 Apr 2024

When can we expect advertising to clean up its act?

Written by Matt Flack, Junior Account Manager at Spreckley

Brands are fighting to catch our eye on a daily basis – be that at home, whilst staring at a screen or when we are out and about – namely, on public transport. Most recently, a story caught my eye regarding Ed Gamble having to rethink his tour advertising campaign across tube stations as it breached TFL policy.

Gamble’s new stand-up tour poster originally featured him enjoying a hot dog covered in ketchup and mustard – nothing too outrageous there, right? But the advert faced removal if it wasn’t updated, and Gamble obliged by swapping the hot dog for a cucumber. The reason behind the change was that TFL ‘does not allow foods high in fat, sugar and salt to be advertised on its network’. Which, when you think about it, can be interpreted as a positive step in society’s fight to lead healthier lifestyles.

However, obesity and unhealthy dietary choices are not the only route to living unhealthily. For decades now, tobacco advertising has been banned (thumbs up!), but when I was on the train home earlier this week, I noticed an advert from an online bookmaker which claimed, ‘This carriage is now a casino’. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing – not just the lack of subtlety of the ad itself, but the complete absence of consistency on display.

Ed Gamble isn’t a fast food behemoth, he was simply using a tasty hot dog as a prop to promote his Hot Diggity Dog tour and was forced to make amends (which, in the end, turned out to be great publicity but that’s a topic for a different blog). But he fell foul of the rules – the same rules that fail to tackle other harmful issues peddled to us every day.

What irks me is the contrast between the tough stance against fast food and the relaxed approach to other harmful habits such as gambling and drinking – saying please drink responsibly does not work as a disclaimer! Having the slogan ‘This carriage is now a casino’ on display to commuters on a daily basis – including impressionable children and those struggling with addiction – should not be allowed to happen, particularly when our understanding of these issues has never been greater.

Advertising is a powerful tool as we all know, and one which needs to be handled properly to combat issues we see affecting our society in a subtle, but very harmful way.

We’ve come a long way since the days of tobacco adverts on the side of buses and the outrageous Are you beach body ready? episode. It feels as if more consistency is needed in advertising regulation to identify potentially damaging products or activities and how they impact the general public. If advertising cleans up its act, then I strongly believe our society will be a happier and healthier one as a result.