UK Advertisers Raise Money for a Good Cause -- Themselves

Industry Program Front Foot to Lobby Against Criticism of Marketing

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Blamed for fat kids, drunken thugs and environmental pollution, advertising has been taking its share of the blame for society's problems. And the U.K. Advertising Association has had enough.

In an effort to restore the industry's reputation among cynical Brits, it's launched a dedicated foundation called Front Foot, and the initiative has already secured support and funding from Unilever, Diageo and Barclays. A recent AA survey shows that only 14% of U.K. adults trust advertising, and the industry's overall "favorability" rating has been falling for more than a decade. In 1994, 51% of U.K. adults held a favorable view of advertising and only 17% unfavorable; in 2008 that was down to 37% for and 28% against.

A spokesman for the AA (which represents U.K. marketing, advertising and media associations) said, "We need to bring intellectual authority back into advertising. There have been 125 pieces of regulation in recent years that restrict advertising, and although they are well-intentioned to protect the public, we need to show the benefits of advertising and how it can be a force for social good." Tim Lefroy, CEO of the AA, has the unenviable task of raising funds for Front Foot, and it has an initial goal of $3.3 million. According to the AA spokesman, they are up against lobbying groups, including Consumer Focus, that have around $83 million of funding behind them.

A spokeswoman for Consumer Focus said, "We are not making a blanket criticism of the industry. We are trying to make sure advertising standards are as good as they can be."

Mr. Lefroy said, "If current trends continue, for the first time ever, people who are against advertising, who want it more controlled and regulated will, in a few years, outnumber those who are 'for' it, who feel that our freedoms are well-placed. The communications industry is in danger of sinking into a morass of ill-informed prejudice."

Front Foot aims to be the "single contemporary, authoritative, objective source for the value and pitfalls of commercial communications."

"We need a better understanding of lots of the areas where we are attacked, so that we can build trust," Mr. Lefroy said. "We should be able to anticipate how society is going and be ahead of the legislation."

Another problem is that the British -- spoiled by the commercial-free TV, radio and websites of the BBC -- have a hard time understanding that advertising pays for the content. Front Foot will have as one of its aims a campaign to highlight the fact that advertising funds 78% of commercial television, 95% of commercial radio, 95% of national press and 80% of magazines, as well as funding the arts, the Olympics and sports in general.

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