LONDON (AdAge.com) -- The U.K. government is axing the $120 million Change4Life anti-obesity marketing campaign and asking marketers to take over the task of educating the public about healthy eating and exercise in return for not imposing new restrictions on food marketing.
The move is part of a wider plan for marketing cutbacks of up to 50% by the cash-strapped new U.K. government, which is currently the biggest-spending advertiser in the U.K., ahead of Procter & Gamble.
Agencies are reeling from the dramatic budget cut, but marketers welcome the opportunity to take a bigger role in the debate, and are also relishing the government's promise -- in return for their help -- not to increase regulation of food and drink marketing.
The Conservative Party's health secretary, Andrew Lansley, has ditched the three-year, $120 million budget set aside by his Labour predecessor and urged a "new approach to public health." He said, "I will now be pressing [the commercial sector] to provide actual funding behind the campaign, and they need to do more. If we are to reverse the trends in obesity, the commercial sector needs to change their business practices, including how they promote their brands and product reformulation."
The Advertising Association's initiative, Business4Life, brings together marketers including Kraft, Coca-Cola, Kellogg, Mars, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Tesco, Cadbury and Unilever and claims on its website that the group will offer the equivalent of $300 million worth of expertise to encourage better diets and more exercise.
Its leader, Ian Barber, said, "Business is ready to play its part. We welcome being seen as part of the solution rather than being constantly castigated as being part of the problem. We are more likely to get the right results if we have a positive role than if we are constantly having mud chucked at us."
Mr. Lansley added, "We have to make Change4Life less a government campaign, more a social movement. Less paid for by government, more backed by business. Less about costly advertising, more about supporting family and individual responses."
M&C Saatchi was the main agency handling the Change4Life account.
Marketers and media owners see Mr. Lansley's decision as a reprieve from moves to instigate a pre-9 p.m. ban on TV advertising of food that is high in fat, salt and sugar, which would have threatened more than $400 million a year in advertising revenue, according to government regulator Ofcom.