As Boris Johnson steps down, we revisit the policies introduced under his leadership that had the biggest impact on the advertising industry.
While in power for less than three years, he oversaw Britain’s departure from the European Union and navigated the country (with questionable efficiency) through a global pandemic. He also oversaw the introduction of several new policies that had a significant impact on the advertising industry – many of which the sector will continue to struggle with long after Johnson leaves No. 10.
Boris Johnson and the policies that reshaped British advertising
Crackdown on high-fat sugar and salt ads
By far the most controversial policy Johnson inked was the so-called ban on junk food advertising. In the years before he was elected, some restrictions had been put in place, such as the soft drink tax and stricter rules on advertising to under-16s.
But the Prime Minister’s promise to tackle Britain’s obesity crisis came into force in 2021, following his own health scare when he was hospitalized with coronavirus. He announced a blanket ban at 9 p.m. before the catchment area on advertising products known to be high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS). The measures include a ban on all paid forms of digital marketing and social media, as well as any broadcast media.
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It has been lambasted by the industry, criticized for being too blunt a tool to tackle such a complex problem. It has been estimated that TV broadcasters, such as ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Sky, will lose more than £200million in revenue a year.
Despite strong industry protests, the ban is currently set to come into force in 2024 (one year after the original 2023 deadline).
Brexit: inflation and talent shortages
Boris and his big red bus paved the way for Brexit and with it a new skills-based, points-based immigration policy.
While the threshold has been tightened for low-skilled workers, the points criteria for skilled workers and the removal of an annual cap on the number of work visas issued have been widely welcomed by industry professional bodies . The Advertising Association, for example, has come out in favor of the policies, which it says would allow a flow of foreign talent into the sector.
However, in the face of the “big resignation”, agencies and brands spoke of the ramifications of Brexit on their ability to hire. A recent report suggested that nearly half (48%) of UK marketers believe the ability to hire diverse creative talent has been reduced due to Brexit.
The industry is also being hit hard by Brexit’s impact on inflation. Globally, the Covid-19 pandemic is the most important factor, but the UK has the highest inflation rate in the G7 (climbing to 9.1% in May with a further rise expected this year) and economists generally attribute the difference to Boris. Brexit strategy.
For agencies, this means there has been pressure to pay staff more to keep pace with the cost of living while facing reduced spending from brands (not helped by a looming government-mandated campaign Johnson encouraging CEOs to redirect marketing budgets). IPA chairman Paul Bainsfair said a rise in agency fees in the coming months is now likely.
His war against “biased” broadcasters
In one of his last acts as Prime Minister, Johnson announced his intention to sell Channel 4. He says the sale is needed to inject funds that will help him compete with streaming giants including Netflix, Amazon and Disney, while protecting it from any decline in the TV ad spend on which its business model depends.
Although publicly owned, the broadcaster does not receive tax dollars, but rather invests in content through advertising dollars. In 2021, its revenue grew by 25% to £1.2bn, creating a surplus of £100m.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” was the resounding message from those opposing the plan. And there are plenty of critics – including senior executives from the broadcaster, the wider media industry, advertisers and even his own MPs.
Some have suggested that Johnson’s war on Channel 4 is being fueled by revenge for his ‘skewed coverage’ and incidents like his being replaced by a melting ice sculpture during a climate change debate after his absence.
With its release, there is now hope that the plan will be scrapped. However, the BBC’s future is less certain. Johnson has been at war with the broadcaster over what he believes is an anti-conservative stance. He threatened to decriminalize non-payment of the license fee and even boycott Radio 4’s Today programme. Under his leadership, the government announced plans to freeze the broadcaster’s funding until 2025 before abolishing the broadcast completely royalty model in 2027, which has left serious questions over its financial future.
Crackdown on tech giants
The Online Harms Bill has been a thorny issue for Boris Johnson. He inherited the social media company crackdown proposal from his predecessor Theresa May and it has since become a beast of law that will irrevocably change the way social media companies and other content-focused platforms work in the UK. .
A long-awaited draft in May 2021 outlined a series of measures to tackle everything from child grooming, revenge pornography, drug and arms sales, hate speech and cyberflash to terrorism, misinformation and racist abuse.
It wants to put social media sites and search engines under significant pressure to deal with material that is legal but considered harmful by giving media and communications regulator Ofcom the ability to hand out fines of up to to 10% of revenue if found to violate new codes of practice.
For brands, his policy would be a welcome step forward in the battle for brand safety. But critics said it would be an attack on freedom of speech and political expression, give the government too much power and pave the way for greater regulation of journalistic content (which was exempted from the bill) .
Jim Killock, the executive director of Open Rights Group, said at the time of publication that the continuous changes, revisions and additions “should tell everyone that this is a mess and it will probably be a bitter disappointment in the practice”.
The final bill will be published well after his departure but will have lasting effects for the digital industry and the confidence placed in it by advertisers.