Ad Industry Should Follow IAA's Lead in Furthering Responsibility

Sometimes It Helps to Remember the Ultimate Consumer -- the People Who Inhabit Our Planet

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The International Advertising Association, as part of its "responsibility" mantle, is sponsoring a poster contest on climate change.

I like the idea that the IAA is getting involved with issues affecting the ultimate consumer -- you know, the people who inhabit our earth. It shows, among other things, that the ad community is concerned about important life-threatening developments instead of focusing on itself and its own problems.

I also like the idea that advertising, in even a small way, can be part of the solution. The industry could have played a role in preventing the subprime debacle and housing meltdown by insisting on more-explicit disclosures about high-risk loans. But it did nothing because advertisers, agencies and the media were enjoying the fruits of hyped-up demand.

Now ad groups seem bent on defending drug companies' right to advertise, even though new prescription drugs might develop unforeseen and deadly side effects that would be exacerbated by immediate consumer advertising.

The ad groups say they are supporting the right of commercial speech and have steadfastly objected to any ad moratorium. But now the companies themselves have agreed to a six-month moratorium on new-drug ads to educate doctors.

The drug companies really don't think of the delay as a moratorium, and ad groups seized on that rationale so they could keep saying their freedom to advertise had not been curtailed.

In a letter to the editor, the ad groups said that in 2005 the drug companies "adopted a principle that companies should devote a significant amount of time educating physicians about a new medicine before they commence advertising."

Which begs the question: If drug companies already had a self-imposed moratorium in place, why do the ad groups persist in opposing any sort of moratorium in the name of free commercial speech?

That's why I'm so glad to hear about the IAA's initiatives. Dentsu is backing a student poster competition in support of the United Nations' work on climate change.

"The posters need to raise awareness of the impact of climate change, especially among peer groups and most importantly to motivate people to take action by bringing conservation-friendly initiatives into their lives and workplaces," said IAA's chairman and world president, Indra Abidin.

Agencies, meanwhile, competed for the IAA Responsibility Award, which attracted 529 entries from 39 countries. Categories included corporate social responsibility and ethics; sustainable products and services and fair trade and equitable commerce.

IAA execs said the submissions have gone from "shock" images of what horrible things could befall mankind to ads on how people can take personal action for change. The Grand Prix was awarded to TBWA, Paris, for its film for Amnesty International, "Signatures."

The poster contest announcement was timed to coincide with the G8 summit meeting in Japan, where one goal was to discuss further issues around climate change. But Michael Lee, the IAA's executive director, said press reports seemed to indicate that climate change got "shortchanged a bit" due to economic concerns, the oil price downturn and other related items. "There was not as much discussion or agreed-upon action as might have been expected from such an august gathering," he said.

Maybe the posters can generate some momentum. "We really hope that this student poster competition can generate unified interest in the ultimate adoption and mitigation of habits that could make such a difference." The U.N. has indicated it's willing to display the posters at the next round of climate control talks in Copenhagen.

"Wouldn't it be incredible," Michael asked, "if the communications industry had a real finger in the pie here?"
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