Interview: EU cannot market itself properly

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European institutions in Brussels could learn from advertisers in better promoting the benefits of EU membership to citizens, argues Gary Leih, CEO of Ogilvy UK and President of the European Association of Communication Agencies (EACA) in an interview with EURACTIV.

Social marketing 

Leih agrees that media and NGOs are increasingly monitoring the messages business is sending out. “There is a natural yin-yang in this: if you stake your claim in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) area and you actually aren’t playing the game, I think it could be disastrous.”

Leih was speaking on the sidelines of the EACA Care Awards ceremony which rewarded campaigns for promoting care for people, resources and the environment. 

If businesses make “false or tenuous claims” in their advertising campaigns, consumers now have better and faster access to online media and can uncover the truth behind the message, says Leih, alluding to a quote from David Ogilvy uttered some 50 years ago: “The consumer is not a moron, she’s your wife.” 

Failure of EU advertising 

Asked whether the EU could learn from this following the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum in Ireland, Leih said he thinks the EU has a problem getting its message out. Its current campaigns, he said, are not “big enough and bold enough to actually make a difference”. 

He believes advertising has a role to play in promoting the EU’s message to citizens. “I think the bottom line is: if you are doing something of value to the community you can tell people about the positive things you are doing, and I think that is a role for advertising in the EU. I’m not sure how much people know in terms of what the EU does, frankly.” 

Leih criticises the way the Commission tenders its campaign proposals, calling it “almost impossible for mainstream ad agencies” to win the tenders. “The projects invariably go to the same small bunch of Euro-specialists,” said Leih, adding: “I am not sure they are finding the right partners to help them to achieve what they want.”

Dominic Lyle, the director general of EACA, thinks the ad agencies that are hired through the tendering process are “not brave enough to go against the perceived thought”. He believes the current tendering process is “soul-destroying” because of the amount of bureaucracy involved and “inefficient” as the EU does not want to move away from traditional advertising. “That is the problem with institutionalised advertising: it’s safe, it’s boring and it’s politically motivated,” he said. 

Despite the plethora of legislation coming out of Brussels, Leih believes the EU does not know how to market the good that is coming out of it. “That’s our job,” he said, “and they should be talking to us more about how to do these things”. 

(Self) regulation 

Leih recognises there is a major shift in the media landscape, moving from the traditional sources (print, radio, TV) to the digital era of online. He sees “no way” of regulating the online world and any attempts at doing so would be extremely difficult. “You can go to the host provider and tell them to take it down, but by then five, ten, 50 million people might have seen it.”

Commenting on the recent Commission proposal for the advertising and food industry to regulate itself, Leih thinks this was a “mature” decision by the EU executive as it gave the “advertising industry time to clean up their act rather than impose any draconian legislation overnight”.

To read the interview in full, please click here

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