Marketing's Moral Maze: Media Mammoths Form Forum

31 March 2004

Disconcerted by the cannonade of social criticism peppering Britain's ad industry, fifteen of the nation's media giants have united to demonstrate to a sceptical world that morality is as integral to their being as Mammon.

Some the industry's biggest names have signed-up to membership of the Media Corporate Social Responsibility Forum. The body will adopt a proactive stance on matters of social and moral responsibility in the hope of staving off possible legislation.

Advising the Forum on the more pragmatic aspects of morality is the ethicist firm of accountants and management consultants KPMG. [Can do as opposed to Kant do, maybe?]

Among the fifteen are Capital Radio, Guardian Media Group, ITV, Trinity Mirror and WPP Group. All are concerned to counter the current barrage of criticism on issues as thorny and diverse as junk food, alcohol abuse, 'adult chat' phone services and advertising to children.

Says a Forum spokesperson: "This [initiative] comes at a time when companies across all industries are under increasing pressure to deal more effectively with the concerns of stakeholders. The question of responsible advertising is most definitely included."

GMG executive editor (development) Jo Confino claims the newspaper has already sacrificed £350,000 in ad revenues from 'adult' phonelines -- scrapped following a survey of 3,500 readers in December.

Explains Confino, who also heads GMG's social and community affairs department: "We asked them, in terms of advertising, if there was anything they felt we should not be taking. And half of our respondents felt we shouldn’t be carrying ads for adult chatlines.”

But despite hostility from some Guardian readers, social responsibility did not extend to banning ads for high performance cars. "The fact is that the media industry is reliant on advertising to survive," said Confino.

The formation of the new group is viewed with mixed feelings by the Advertising Association. Director general Andrew Brown steered a tightrope course between Scylla and Charybdis.

On the one hand, existing advertising codes of practice are perfectly satisfactory, Brown insisted. On the other: "It would be quite wrong to be a dissenting voice about a group of media owners who were trying to achieve laudable objectives."

Data sourced from: Media Week (UK); additional content by WARC staff