Clearing the air as pollution catches up ( June '25,2008, Economic Times)
Once again , the European Commission is gearing up to intervene in the marcoms business. After tightening up rules on tobacco, alcohol and ‘junk-food’ advertising, Brussels has told the car industry that it will have to display more information about vehicles’ carbon emissions in its print ads.The proposal follows research showing that existing rules, under a 1999 labelling directive, are not helping raise consumer awareness about CO2. With cars pumping out 12% of emissions in Europe, the EC has decided to get tough. Car manufacturers are not thrilled, but the angriest response has come from publishers, who see the EC’s proposals as unnecessary and unfair. “Our biggest concern is that the rules apply only to print media,” says Kerry Neilson, head of legal affairs at the PPA. “Our members generate 100 million pounds of car ad revenue a year. They are worried that increasing the regulatory burden on publishers will drive these advertisers out of print into rival media , or below the line, without achieving anything.” This view is echoed by Mark Millar, head of legal affairs at Future Publishing. “At a time when media choice is proliferating, it’s another thing that makes it harder for print media to compete. There’s no logic to our industry being singled out for special attention.” The scale of the commercial threat won’t become clear until after the EC’s public consultation, at which point it could introduce a ‘traffic-light’ system for ads — red dots for high-emission cars and green ones for low. If that’s all there is to it, press buyers doubt there will be much impact. One leading executive, who preferred not to be named, said it would take more than traffic lights to deter clients because “they like the audience profile and brand-engagement delivered through consumer magazines” .A bigger concern is if the EC decides to back a tobacco health-warning-style approach. Liberal Democrat MEP Chris Davies delivered a controversial report late last year in which he argued that at least 20% of each ad should be given over to emissions data. The recommendation was welcomed in Brussels , but is the kind of suggestion that irks publishers. “Extending restrictions on print ads is an easy way out for politicians — to make it look like job done,” says Neilson . “We think it would be counter-productive , because publishers have a key role in educating people about emissions.” Besides, there are signs that the car industry is adapting, as it begins to view low emissions as a marketable proposition. Hyundai’s current print campaign, for example, prompts consumers to go to the Act On CO2 website - an online emissions comparison service run by the government and What Car? As the major manufacturers move toward hybrid engines, this emphasis is sure to become much more mainstream. Dr Alan Kemp, group business development director at Haymarket Media Group, which owns What Car? and Marketing, says the company has done a lot of thinking about emissions — without needing the EC to crack its whip. “This is about more than discrimination between media. It’s about why the EU needs to get involved , rather than trusting the industry to self-regulate . People actively seek emissions information when buying a car. This is another example of Europe’s nannyish behaviour when it comes to regulating marketing.” But it’s possible the industry is its own worst enemy . Last year saw a record 300 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority about ‘greenwashing’ , with the body criticising Shell and Toyota for exaggerated claims about emissions. Some may argue that this proves self-regulation is working. But these figures, combined with the car industry’s poor record on hitting emissions targets, show why it’s no surprise that regulators are on the offensive. It’s unfortunate that the magazine sector looks like it may end up paying the price.