Does advertising grow markets? More evidence from the United Kingdom

Tim Broadbent
Ogilvy & Mather Asia Pacific

INTRODUCTION

The British Government had a problem. The national diet was worsening, so much so that many men were not healthy enough for the Army. Previous generations had eaten home-cooked meals, a fairly nutritious mix of grain and vegetables with a little fatty meat. This generation was eating store-bought foods, less nutritious but more expensive. What was to be done? How to wean the poor off too much sugar and white bread?

This situation sounds contemporary but actually occurred in the 1790s (Colquhoun 2007). It is interesting because of what the government of the day did not do. It did not blame advertising. It might have liked to find a scapegoat, but most ads at the time were print ads and most of the poor were illiterate, so advertising was not a credible culprit.1 Today's government, however, has restricted advertising for fast foods and fizzy drinks, and there is talk of banning or restricting advertising in many other categories, including alcohol, supermarkets, cars, airlines, sweets, toys, computer games and financial products. The European Parliament recently voted to ban advertisements that 'reinforce gender stereotypes' (International Herald Tribune 2008). It seems the banning order has become the most popular club in the politician's policy bag: whatever the social issue of the hour, out it comes.