Sorrell Slams Anti-Ad Lobbyists

26 February 2004

Sir Martin Sorrell, ceo of WPP Group earns his living in, and by, advertising. It provides him with life's necessities.

So few eyebrows will be raised that he lashed out Tuesday at the growing trend in Western nations to question the right of advertisers and their agents to promote any product they wish to whichever audience of whatever age -- irrespective of possible public risk.

"I worry about it," admitted the knight. "Any form of regulation, in my view, is not helpful. It starts in tobacco, it’s moved onto alcohol. It spreads into food and, before you know it, you have a Government agency that’s going to prevent you doing anything that could be perceived as bad for you.”

Momentum is growing, fears Sorrell, that could pose a major challenge to advertising worth billions in billings worldwide. And in the US and UK -- two of Sir Martin's prime markets -- he sees the creeping shadow of legislation.

In the latter nation, the WPP boss perceives a real threat that the Blair administration will renege on its pledge to confer on the advertising industry a hands-off, self-regulatory approach under new supra-regulator Ofcom.

He is concerned at signs that some clientside firms will cave in to increased harrying from lobby groups. “I’ve found manufacturers and food companies a little bit complacent,” he said. “The pressure’s building up. Whether it’s an issue or not, the [lobbyists] will make it an issue. Like it or not, it’s not going to go away.”

But some observers of the marketing scene believe the pragmatic approach of the UK's Institute of Practitioners in Advertising is more likely to achieve results that will satisfy both sides.

Says an IPA spokesman: "Our thinking is that, rather than just putting up barriers and having them knocked down, the advertising industry has to be part of the solution."

And in a move that reflects shirtsleeves realism, the trade body has organized a legal seminar on March 26 to address -- and seek solutions to -- the issues of food and alcohol advertising. A senior Department of Health spokesman will attend the event to present the government’s latest thinking.

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