Tuesday, 30 March 2010

It Just Doesn't Ad Up

Drugs are illegal, Government sponsored adverts
raising awkward conversations between parents and
children aren't. So blame Frank.

Now, perhaps it’s only me, but I’m really not sure I can take any more government-backed advertising campaigns. Yesterday, I panicked that I had forgotten to put my seatbelt on and nearly ran into a wall, realising just in time that I don’t own a car and was on foot to the bus stop. Phew, close call. I also lost concentration at work the very same day worrying that my gas heater was asphyxiating my cat with carbon monoxide fumes. Luckily I don’t have a cat, and all was well.

I am well aware that public awareness on certain matters is paramount; over 100,000 people die each year in the UK from smoking-related illnesses, and advertising campaigns promoting the available quitting options are essential to combat this dire statistic. That’s one poor sod gone while you’re reading this, and so I’m all for it. Except I’m not. Not entirely. Smoking, and a couple of other problems aside, government advertising on the important issues facing us in daily life has reached a totally disproportionate level.

I don’t intend to make light of any issues discussed, but come on; how many people don’t wear a seatbelt these days? Frankly, if you don’t (and God knows why you wouldn’t), you probably deserve to land on the pavement. 400 a year die from this particular brain-lapse; that’s only about one person per day in 60 million, producing such an obscure percentage on my calculator that I couldn’t even understand it. Do we all need to be subjected to this? All the more reason to highlight the issue you might say, given that one glimpse of Brian (who didn’t want to die, by the way) head butting his windscreen while you’re eating your morning toast is enough to jog the old grey matter next time you get in the car. Unless you get the bus of course, in which case you’re fucked. But that’s just the problem, not the bus, but the fact that you won’t see it just once. Or twice. Or even a few times; you’ll go on being subjected to Brian’s brains splattered over your screen for months to come, at all hours of the day. It’s even worse on HD.

More lamentable than the awful replay value of these things is the cost; in the financial year ending 2009 the government media advertising budget reached nearly half a billion. That could pay for a morning’s borrowing; well, ok, maybe a lunch break’s. There was a time when parents were expected to educate their children, but that day is gone. Good old Tele now provides all the answers to the difficult questions. Plus, Mum and Dad are far too busy these days running down motorcyclists or forgetting to fill in their tax returns to have time.

It’s not like they always get the campaigns right, either. Last month, the Advertising Standards Authority banned two press ads on climate change ostensibly aimed at children, including the Keatsian verse:

“Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.
There was none, as extreme weather due to climate change had caused a drought.”


Accusations of scare-mongering followed, along with hundreds of complaints, which were upheld on the grounds that the text ‘involved uncertainties in the magnitude and timing, as well as regional details, of predicted climate change.” Evidently, it could not be proved that Jack and Jill’s hill would be adversely affected. They seemed unconcerned that the adverts, along with the TV campaign in which everyone burns and drowns simultaneously must have scared the shit out of unsuspecting children. The fact that they’ve got to live with the effects of their forebears’ carbon gluttony is bad enough.

Some public service advertising is totally ill-conceived. Let me tell you, nothing is going to encourage the onset of substance-related paranoia more than watching a ‘Talk to Frank’ ad with your parents during the break of The Bill. Furthermore, I wonder how many amorous lovers’ fiery sofa liaisons have been doused by a scantily clad model seductively whispering Gonnoorrrhheeeaa in their ears? Perhaps a good thing; it might save the world from acquiring one more poor little tike in a cerebrally inept generation that will grow up unable to think independently, relying on TV to tell him when to take a piss.