Advertising lessons from apartheid and the Nazis
The one thing that society should have learnt from apartheid, the Nazis and other failed coprocracies* is that banning things is a simple, often politically correct procedure that initially appeases the masses but which ultimately leads to political self-destruction. Throughout history, despotic governments have tried to main social equanimity by banning all sorts of things, including books, liquor, movies and in the case of the early days of apartheid - television.
It's so easy
There are a number of big problems with banning things.
The first is that it is so easy and politically correct that it becomes difficult to know when to stop. Secondly, there is a big danger that by banning something unnecessarily, governments are able to convince do-gooders, lobbyists and activists that they have actually done something about the problem. Only to find out years down the line, when it is far too late, that the ban in question had no effect whatsoever ever on the problem.
When tobacco advertising was banned in South Africa, the CEO of one of South Africa's biggest media companies told me that the marketing and advertising industries should not fight the ban because "tobacco is a completely separate case and in any event [the government] won't ban anything else because they have learnt from apartheid."
He was wrong, of course, because that very same government is now considering banning alcohol advertising.
Which is appeasing the many interest groups calling for this ban. A dangerous situation because the overwhelming evidence against advertising being a direct cause alcohol abuse will lead these well-meaning people to believe that Government is actually doing something about curbing alcohol abuse when, in fact, all that is happening is a token and very hollow gesture.
But, perhaps the most serious impact of getting on the banning bandwagon is not knowing when to stop. With banning being so politically correct and so appeasing to activists, the temptation to use this as a form of governance is very real.
Apart from alcohol and tobacco ad bans, there have been for quite some time in SA, growing calls from some frustrated sections of society to ban advertising for fast food, dairy products, high performance motor cars, extreme sports, sugar and high-sugar content products, slimming products and a whole host of other goods and services that some interest group or other is convinced is ruining our lives.
And then, what next? Books? Magazines? Newspapers?
Of course, one has to ask oneself why governments don't just ban tobacco, alcohol, fast foods, fast motor cars, dairy products and everything else that seems to be leading us astray? Quite simply, they can't afford to. Banning tobacco would lead to huge job losses and even bigger loses in tax revenue for governments. It's actually all about money.
Governments can't afford to ban things upon which they depend so heavily for tax revenue but they can ban the advertising because that only affects the marketing and advertising industries that nobody other than the marketing and media industries gives a hoot about anyway.
But, you have to admit it is hypocrisy of the highest order.
Quite apart from which there is absolutely no empirical evidence that banning tobacco advertising has reduced the incidence of smoking. What has reduced the incidence of smoking is our rigorous anti-smoking laws prohibiting smoking just about anywhere, on top of which it has become socially unacceptable.
Banning tobacco advertising has not made an iota of difference. And if you believe it has, then answer this. My three older children, who grew up when our media was full of cigarette ads, don't smoke and never have.
The formative years of my youngest son was not only when tobacco advertising was banned but when schools had all sorts of anti smoking programmes. He smokes today. Why? Peer pressure and nothing else. Ask anyone who smokes or drinks today.
Equally, the biggest scourge imaginable is the use by youngsters of the drug tik, on the Cape Flats. There has never been an ad for tik.
Governments should be extremely wary of using bans to silence the vocal and often misguided minority. They should learn from history that banning is easy but living with the consequences ultimately leads to self-destruction.
Quite apart from which, allowing the citizens of a country to have freedom of choice ensures that no-one is tempted to stop looking after their own children because they are being given the impression that the government will do it for them.
Life doesn't work that way. Neither does advertising.
*Coprocracy: The Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Words, meaning "rule by the shits".
About Chris Moerdyk: @chrismoerdyk
Apart from being a corporate marketing analyst, advisor and media commentator, Chris Moerdyk
is a former chairman of Bizcommunity. He was head of strategic planning and public affairs for BMW South Africa and spent 16 years in the creative and client service departments of ad agencies, ending up as resident director of Lindsay Smithers-FCB in KwaZulu-Natal. Email Chris on moc.liamg@ckydreom
and follow him on Twitter at @chrismoerdyk