mission impossible


Breandan OBroin

Even in their darkest days and just before they were compelled to stop advertising, one never remembers cigarette marketers advising smokers to smoke less cigarettes. Ads carried dire health warnings but each smoker knew in his heart of damaged hearts and collapsing lungs from where these messages actually emanated.

They were made public by the government, the surgeon general, Ash or some other bunch of self-appointed do-gooders out to prevent people having a jolly good time. Smokers gave the metaphorical two fingers as they used their other hand to light up. When you finally quit, it was because your children insisted you do ‘the right thing'.

But think drink and you engage with another world of self-appointed advice centres. The people who sell drink are taking it on themselves to persuade people who buy drink to control their consumption. Meas (Mature Enjoyment of Alcohol in Society) is an organisation founded and funded by alcohol marketers like Diageo etc that aim to persuade all drinkers – but mostly younger drinkers – to ‘Drink Sensibly'.

This seems something of a contradiction in terms. Sensibility and youth are de facto seen in opposition to each other. Many a night on the tiles begins with the express intention of behaving irresponsibly. Alcohol is merely the means to the end; it aids and abets but is not in itself the cause of dodgy behavioural patterns.

So then, why Meas? The cynical road to take assumes the alcohol industry is acting to save their own marketing skins, hoping governments will not treat them like fag-men and ban their advertising activities which they need to get ‘recruits'.

That would be unproductive; cynicism has its place but it does not rank primus inter pares over more positive reasons. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a reality and not always a platitude despite the sniping of some social commentators who refuse to see any possible good in any undertaking that has the merest hint of profit. What of the recent contribution by Meas to the overall debate? How effective can their booze myth-busting posters concerning the effects and after-effects of the demon drink hope to be? ST reckons they are in with a shout.

To begin, the communications strategy seems sound as it's based around the common misconception that we all know everything we need to know when in truth we know sweet bugger all. “So you think…” is always a good place to start.



Guinness ‘Island' created by Frank Sheerin at Arks in 1977, which Marketing readers voted ‘Ad of the Century' in 1999. Nowadays, Meas faces a host of new challenges as it tries to ensure alcohol is seen to be consumed sensibly, particularly by youths.

In tackling subjects like drinking to get sober the morning after, or asking is there a difference in how gender affects your body's responses, the campaign blows away popular misconceptions that ignite and then excuse dangerous drinking behaviour. The effects on self and society are tackled in posters that pose the questions and a smartly written website that provides the answers. The campaign works by allowing people come to terms with their own behaviour from their own internal perspectives and by not attempting to impose a homogenised worldview on the audience.

It is a good example of what marketers talk about in developing a personal relationship with consumers. It's neither all give nor all take, but a fair balance of both. My respect for Meas (pun intended) has grown hugely, but I may be part of an optimistic minority that believes change can be created by considered persuasion.

The existence of codes of practice is often seen as an unnecessary limitation on our abilities to communicate persuasively but sometimes it's clear we can't live without them. Recently, Meas received complaints about a certain poster.

The ad promoted the Home Nightclub in Balbriggan and depicted two young ladies drinking alongside the caption “F**k me, I'm famous”. The Independent Complaints Panel found it hard to count the number of code infringements the poster had clocked up. Meas chief executive Fionnuala Sheehan said it was one of the worst breaches of the code to come to their attention.

“It represented a litany of breaches of the code and was highly irresponsible”, Sheehan said, showing a remarkable degree of self-control and understatement. The offending poster was withdrawn, but without any other apparent penalty.

In other words, the perpetrators got away scot free. Mind you, it's not just one-off nightclub posters that can raise a cynical regulatory eyebrow. ST wonders what Meas thinks of the decision of Diageo to use Sean Combs (aka P Diddy) as the publicity icon for the Ciroc premium vodka produced from “snap frost” French grapes.

The rap artist is rapping all the way to the bank as he pockets half the profits from soaring US sales, netting him millions of dollars a year. While “known for his wild behaviour in his earlier years”, Diageo management now contends that Combs “regularly champions the importance of drinking Ciroc responsibly'.

Come on lads, try pulling the other one.

The Financial Times recently referred to Ben Langdon, now chief executive of Digital Marketing Group, as “a UK marketing veteran”. Seems like only yesterday when Langdon was boss of CDP and McCann's and dubbed an enfant terrible.

Not that age has diminished this man's capacity to talk bluntly. In dissing the recessionary tendency of the UK advertising industry to hark back to golden times by unearthing golden oldie campaigns such as Hovis, he had this to say…

“In difficult times, if advertisers know from research that something works, then they run an old ad. They have already ‘sunk' the production budget years ago, so at the least it's a low-risk option”. Thanks for that, Benjamin.

All those other in-tune-with-the times agencies were calling it “a marketing opportunity to remind people of their historical brand attachments and a return to the finer things of the past”. ST readers might like to wallow a little in some nostalgia and enjoy some damn fine ads at ft.com/nostalgicads.

As the recession bites in every corner of the consumer world, it's hardly coincidental that while McDonald's reports higher sales, more stores and extra staff as customers look for low-cost meals, high-priced Starbucks is suffering from crashing profits and is planning to shed some 6,000 baristas worldwide.

But what seems at odds with the general mayhem and melancholy is the news that Burger King has launched a fragrance called Flame that comes with “a scent of seduction and a hint of flame-broiled meat”. No kiddin'. Not the kind of thing to splash on when your first date turns out to be a dedicated veggie.

Wouldn't bet your negative-equity house on Flame making the hot lists. On a positive note, The Irish Times had a small ad on its back page which read “Inventor with proven ability seeks seed capital”. There's an optimist if ever we read of one.

Call 087-2837633 if your redundancy money is burning a hole in the pocket of your designer jeans. IT columnist Lucy Kellaway welcomed us to the recessionary world of business fashion by saying there is a major return to the costume of suit, shirt and smart tie among executives worried that too casual a look might suggest they were not paying enough attention to the seriousness of the current situation.

At the very least, Kellaway remarks, it puts an end to the pathetic delusion that dressing in a laissez-faire informal fashion creates the impression that one is ‘creative'. Agency bosses and marketing directors, this means you.

Sharp Dressers


John Slattery as co founder of Sterling Cooper and and Jon Hamm as the agency's s creative director Don Draper in Matthew Weiner's Mad Men. Writing in The Irish Times, business columnist Lucy Kellaway said suits and tie are back in vogue as executives strive to give the right impression in the economic downturn.

We assume all true agency creatives worth their stylistic salt are already sporting sharp suits, smoking cigarettes and bedding their secretaries as per the fashion dictates of Madmen, showing at ridiculously late times on BBC Four and BBC Two.

Adland folk universally pride themselves on their ability to act instinctively claiming to be innately instinctive by their very nature. Often this happens to true, sometimes it may amount to little more than braggadocio, always it is hard to substantiate.

In hard times, our reliance on intuition can appear infuriatingly na

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