Friday 17 January 2020

'The freedom to advertise is good for people, good for business and good for the economy'

Public face of the ad industry, Barry Dooley, tells John McGee in a Q&A he is aware of the need for a responsible approach

Barry Dooley of the AAI believes advertising can play a positive role. Photo: Tony Gavin
Barry Dooley of the AAI believes advertising can play a positive role. Photo: Tony Gavin

John McGee

As chief executive of the Association of Advertisers in Ireland (AAI), the trade association that represents the interests of Irish advertisers, Barry Dooley is in many ways the public face of the advertising industry.

With a background in marketing and advertising, including stints at some of the country's top ad agencies, he also represents Irish advertisers' interests in Europe.

Why is there a need for an organisation like the AAI?

"The AAI represents the collective voice of responsible Irish advertisers, and works hard to sustain a robust self-regulatory framework to protect advertising freedoms. A vocal minority disputes this view and governments and regulators are increasingly put under pressure to impose restrictions that are both unjustified and disproportionate.

"It's hard to think of a more high-profile business than advertising. According to its critics, advertising corrupts childhood, fuels obesity, targets the vulnerable, misuses data and even encourages alcohol abuse.

"We don't shirk these tough topics - but we also believe that the freedom to advertise, within a clear and responsible framework, is good for people, good for business and good for the economy."

The issue of alcohol advertising has never strayed too far from making the headlines. What is the AAI doing to quell the various concerns?

"The Public Health Alcohol Bill that was published in December last year is a major concern to the AAI, though I understand that the EU Commission has been extremely critical of this draft.

"We were invited to appear in an 'open discussion' before the Joint Committee on Health and Children in March last year. We tried to convince the committee that a wider stakeholder response to alcohol misuse is what's required rather than a random selection of measures.

"So when considering any new measures or restrictions, we asked the committee to think about two questions. What is this likely to achieve? And will it make a difference?

"The bill that was subsequently published does not take any of the AAI comments on board. The proposed bill and code purport to target the misuse of alcohol - but the provisions that will be contained in these instruments lack focus and an evidence base for their effectiveness.

"There is an onus on the Government to address this lack of evidence, given the severity of the proposed restrictions.

"It is important for Government to engage all stakeholders in this debate on the proposed bill including drinks companies. Ultimately, what's good for the country is good for 200,000 people that are employed across the sector. We have a shared responsibility to address misuse, and drinks companies understand this."

How will the proposed sugar tax affect your members?

"The AAI recognises the 'Healthy Weight for Ireland' strategy, understands the need to address obesity challenge and wants to work with Government and others on effective ways to improve overall health. We also understand that obesity is a complex challenge and addressing the problem will take time and effort. It will not be solved by knee-jerk, quick fix solutions such as taxation.

"International evidence shows that additional taxation on sugar-sweetened drinks does not achieve the public health objectives of reducing incidence of obesity, overweight and related illnesses.

"The AAI believes that everyone should play their part. The industry must act properly, Governments must legislate fairly and consumers must behave responsibly."

Advertising often gets the rough end of the stick from regulators, lobby groups and consumer groups. Why is this?

"In some cases, advertising is singled out as being the root cause of the problems that we face in society and the introduction of restrictions to advertising is perceived to be an easy-win.

"Most of the lobby groups don't know a great deal about advertising. Nor do they understand the damage that can be caused to a sector by introducing random measures to restrict advertising freedoms. Our role is to challenge unwarranted restrictions, to fight sector battles, to represent advertisers with regard to regulators, government, the advertising codes and the self-regulation system."

Can advertising be a force for good in society?

"On many critical societal challenges, advertising plays a positive role. All over the world, public service advertising has proven to be a useful policy tool in successfully reducing road accidents, increasing disease awareness, tackling domestic violence, encouraging recycling or promoting water-safety.

"Companies too are using advertising to help address societal challenges. They are increasingly conscious that beyond selling brands and ideas, advertising can be used to show how their products and their initiatives can help make a difference."

Sunday Indo Business

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