Brands Matter

The global organizations and populists who aim to seize COVID vaccine tech and IP

When Donald Trump claimed in September 2020 that every American would have access to vaccines by April 2021, his comments received scorn. The Washington Post said his claims were “without evidence,” CNN quoted health experts who said it was impossible, and The New York Times claimed it would take another decade.

Now, a year into this pandemic, nearly half of the eligible population has received at least one vaccine dose in the U.S., and distribution has been opened to every American adult.

Operation Warp Speed, which invested tax dollars and helped reduce bureaucracy across the board, has contributed to what has truly been a miraculous effort by vaccine firms.

While Trump’s proclamations eventually become true and the question of vaccine ability has been settled, there is now pressure on the Biden administration to turn over domestic vaccine supply to countries with skyrocketing cases.

On Sunday, the U.S. declared it will send additional medical supplies to India, currently experiencing the largest global spike in cases.

But at international bodies, countries and activist groups are petitioning for far more: they want to force biotech companies to waive intellectual property rights on vaccines and COVID-related medical technology.

Along with nearly 100 other countries, India and South Africa are the architects of a motion at the World Trade Organization called a TRIPS Waiver (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights).

If the waiver is triggered, it would ostensibly nullify IP protections on COVID vaccines, allowing other countries to copy the formulas developed by private vaccine firms to inoculate their populations and play into the hands of future governments more hostile to private innovation.

This week, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai met with the heads of the various vaccine makers to discuss the proposal, but it is uncertain if the Biden administration will support the measure at the WTO.

While many companies have voluntarily pledged to sell them at cost or even offered to share information with other firms, this measure would have more far-reaching implications.

This coalition seeking the TRIPS waiver includes Doctors Without Borders, Human Rights Watch, and World Health Organization Secretary-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who first backed this effort in 2020 before any coronavirus vaccine was approved.

They claim that because COVID represents such a global threat and because western governments have poured billions in securing and helping produce vaccines, low and middle-income countries should be relieved of the burden of purchasing them.

Considering the specialized knowledge needed to develop these vaccines and the cold storage infrastructure required to distribute them, it seems implausible that any of this could be achieved outside the traditional procurement contracts we’ve seen in the European Union and the U.S.

That said, rather than celebrating the momentous innovation that has led to nearly a dozen globally-approved vaccines to fight a deadly pandemic in record time, these groups are trumpeting a populist message that pits so-called “rich” countries against poor ones.

Intellectual property rights are protections that help foster innovation and provide legal certainty to innovators so that they can profit from and fund their efforts. A weakening of IP rules would actively hurt the most vulnerable who depend on innovative medicines and vaccines.

If the cost of researching and producing a COVID vaccine is truly $1 billion as is claimed, with no guarantee of success, there are relatively few biotechnology or pharmaceutical companies that can stomach that cost.

BioNTech, the German company headed by the husband-wife team of Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci that partnered with Pfizer for trials and distribution of their mRNA vaccine, was originally founded to use mRNA to cure cancer.

Before the pandemic, they took on massive debt and scrambled to fund their research. Once the pandemic began, they pivoted their operations and produced one of the first mRNA COVID vaccines, which hundreds of millions of people have received.

With billions in sales to governments and millions in direct private investment, we can expect the now-flourishing BioNTech to be at the forefront of mRNA cancer research, which could give us a cure. The same is true of the many orphan and rare diseases that do not otherwise receive major funding.

Would this have been possible without intellectual property protections?

Moderna, for its part, has stated it will not enforce the IP rights on its mRNA vaccine and will hand over any research to those who can scale up production. The developers of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine have pledged to sell it at cost until the pandemic is over.

While this should smash the narrative presented by the populists and international organizations who wish to obliterate IP rights, instead they have doubled down, stating that these companies should hand over all research and development to countries that need them.

If we want to be able to confront and end this pandemic, we will continue to need innovation from both the vaccine makers and producers who make this possible. Granting a one-time waiver will create a precedent of nullifying IP rights for a host of other medicines, which would greatly endanger future innovation and millions of potential patients.

Especially in the face of morphing COVID variants, we need all incentives on the table to protect us against the next phase of the virus. 

Rather than seeking to tear them down those who have performed the miracle of quick, cheap, and effective vaccines, we should continue supporting their innovations by defending their intellectual property rights.

Yaël Ossowski (@YaelOss) is deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center, a global consumer advocacy group.

To fight human rights abuses, we should protect credible brands

In recent years, there has been welcome attention paid to how worker safety and rights are protected in countries that trade with Europe….

While most trade takes place within legal and regulated channels, there remains an entire sector of the global economy that peddles in knock-offs and illicit goods.

The threats posed by illegal trade go way beyond safety and product quality considerations. The creation of parallel supply chains that have no respect for human rights imperils our shared efforts to ensure that all humans are treated with respect and dignity. 

The European Union should level up on its efforts to expose forced child labour and harsh treatment of workers across the world by raising awareness about these activities through its anti-illicit trade policies, and by partnering up with affected brand owners to eradicate abuses and illegal trade.

Often, we lack knowledge about how specific products make it to our local stores. Let us use chocolate as an example. Labourers produce cocoa in South America and West Africa, and then it’s sent to Europe where chocolate makers turn cocoa into chocolate bars that we see on our shelves. The cases of child labour in these areas are numerous and, likely, many of these illegal practices go undetected. In Mexico, for example, products such as green beans, coffee, cucumbers, and tobacco are often produced by using child labour, some legal and some not. As of 2019, 152 million children were still in child labour. 

China’s reluctance to abide by liberal values, in this regard, is well-known. It was estimated that at least 100,000 Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities are being subjected to forced labour in China following detention in re-education camps. Cruel treatment is used to produce gloves, clothing, and consumer products that are later shipped to Europe. Illegal trade, from this perspective, is any kind of economic exchange that involves human rights abuses at any of its stages. 

Brands globally strive to achieve sustainability and enforce labour standards while parallel supply chains only exist to generate quick profits by exploiting legal loopholes and using other human beings as a means to an end. Moreover, illegal trade has been linked to terrorism and the same groups that smuggle cigarettes and goods also traffic humans and weapons.

Cigarettes are among the most illegally trafficked goods in the world. The global black market for tobacco products is large and growing, and in countries that are among the world’s largest tobacco producers such as Brazil and Malawi, the incidence of child labour is high. Children who are involved in illegal work miss out on their chance to get an education and to elevate their status in their own societies. As a result, developing regions continue to cripple with poverty.

As in the case of cocoa, gloves and other consumer goods, the only way to know for sure that what we buy was produced and shipped legally is by putting trust in specific brands. EU policies and those of member states should encourage branding and marketing of goods produced legally and in accordance with human rights conventions in order to root out parallel supply chains. Restrictive tax policies punish official retailers and open doors to criminals who disregard basic human rights and would do anything to get the profits they seek.

An effective partnership between affected brands and government bodies is the way to address abuses and illegal activities. The Achieving Reduction of Child Labour in Support of Education (ARISE) programme executed by the International Labour Organisation is a great example of such cooperation in action. Through addressing the identified social and economic factors that encourage small-scale tobacco farmers to employ children in dangerous work, it prevents and makes strides towards the elimination of child labour in supply chains.

In conclusion, illegal trade that is facilitated through parallel supply chains that abuse human rights exists because of the dynamic loopholes in place. Every government effort to stamp out some goods – such as cigarettes – out of the market by taxing them and imposing various marketing restrictions is a call for criminal groups who use child labour and forced labour to scale up their work. 

Driven by profit, criminals completely ignore basic ethical considerations and know no boundaries. While law enforcement is crucial, is it also important to make sure that consumers can readily access information about goods produced by trustworthy brands, and that those are available so there is no incentive to turn to the black market.

Originally published here.

Thanks WHO, But I Don’t Need Your Breastfeeding Advice

The WHO yet again disappoints by keeping vital information from a very vulnerable demographic — new moms.

Dear World Health Organization,

These last few months have revealed many problems with your policies and recommendations. Thousands of people around the world are mourning the deaths of their loved ones, which wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t been parroting China’s shocking lies about the coronavirus. No official words of apology would ever make up for lost lives.

WHO lifestyle policy recommendations – such as the prohibition of the marketing of breast milk substitutes – are only adding to the mental and economic pressures with which new moms are grappling.

In your latest report, released together with UNICEF and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), you urge countries to ban the promotion of breast milk substitutes, including advertising and distribution of free samples.

While the WHO deserves praise for drawing attention to the important issue of breastfeeding, pressuring women to continue to breastfeed during the COVID-19 pandemic while at the same time denying them information on alternatives is outrageous.

In fact, new moms needed this information more than ever during the pandemic. With the WHO’s outstanding level of expertise, WHO experts must be aware that high levels of stress in breastfeeding moms can lead to a difficult let-down reflex and to a decrease in breast milk supply.

Women may also suffer from an underlying condition such as HIV, tuberculosis, and certain cancers that makes breastfeeding difficult or impossible.

Even healthy mothers, under the best of circumstances, have trouble breastfeeding. These moms too have felt extreme stress during the pandemic, making it, for some, nearly impossible.

Breastfeeding isn’t only about nutrition; it also helps establish a life-long connection between mother and child. A mothers’ mental health is projected on their children. What can an emotionally exhausted mother offer a baby other than her anxiety? Sometimes breastfeeding simply isn’t worth it and moms need alternatives.

Shaming these moms for choosing breast milk substitutes is disgraceful. Women who want to breastfeed should be free to do so. Women, who – for either medical or personal reasons – prefer or need breast milk substitutes, should be able to access information about those products and make an informed choice, without feeling shame.

The WHO needs to recognize that a women’s wellbeing matters as much as their baby’s.

The WHO might have the noblest of motives, but moms need information more than unwelcome advice. Denying new moms information about breast milk substitutes leaves them vulnerable to unreliable—even dangerous—information and may even lead some to purchase products on the unregulated black market.

The damage from coronavirus is impossible to reverse, but the WHO can help alleviate some of the suffering by ensuring mothers – and all consumers — have the information necessary to choose products that are best for themselves and their babies.

Originally published here.

The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org

Why Brands Matter Now More Than Ever

It’s been almost three months since most of the world went on complete or partial lockdown. The economic consequences of the pandemic have been devastating, with millions of people losing jobs, individuals losing livelihoods, and businesses going bankrupt.

The good news is that the digitalisation of our societies, and in particular e-commerce has mitigated the damage. We might be going through a plague of epic proportions, but at least we have virtual brands.

At a time when better, less expensive products and services are just a click or two away, the conventional wisdom might be that brands are less important than they once were. But that misses the point. Virtual brands now play a key role in our COVID-19 world, and we should embrace brand freedom more as we slowly get back on track.

Unfortunately, branding and marketing often come under fire as policymakers intervene to limit their impact on the consumer decision-making process. In other words, they are blamed for nudging consumers and tricking them into buying something they wouldn’t want otherwise.

Such an approach begs the question: can we claim that consumers who have access to information about products through branding and marketing — as long as companies are honest — are making irresponsible buying choices? No, and claiming otherwise is mere paternalism.

Governments that trample on brand freedom put not only industries at risk but also consumers. In the past months in which all retail shops have been closed almost everywhere in Europe, consumers have greatly enjoyed the variety of virtual brands. Trust is a crucial part of that relationship.

In the midst of quarantines, European consumers have been using e-commerce channels and other platforms to buy goods and products without needing to interact or inspect with them in real life. The decisions are then solely based on trust for the platform and the brand.

The trust component is paramount, and every time governments intervene, they undermine it. Companies’ reputation is also at risk: it is in their best interest to provide consumers with complete information about their products to avoid customer dissatisfaction, bad reputations, and potential lawsuits.

Digitalisation has reinforced this notion thanks to fast access to peer reviews and social media. It has become fairly easy to compromise the reputation of some brands and expand that of others. Brands are therefore incentivised to be transparent.

Brands and marketing also help distribute information about the products, and more of it is always better. Among other things, more information helps reduce search costs.

Rather than spending more time and effort research and looking for products and all the details, brands help convey the information consumers needs. If there were no brands, we would be spending hours trying to figure out what we are offered, and what the best choices are. In our fast developing world, this opportunity cost is very high.

Our road to economic recovery in the EU will be painful and long. The stakes are high, and we should get it right if we want to restore the prosperity of every individual in Europe. While it might be tempting to impose more market regulations to help the economy get back on its feet, this isn’t always the best solution for consumers.

Especially now, we need more brand freedom and we need to promote this idea at every level of our European institutions. If not, we will have less information and fewer choices. That’s no place to be in modern Europe.

Originally published here.

The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org

Health advocates are using this crisis to further restrict alcohol

Global health advocates do not have their priorities straight, argues Bill Wirtz

With the recent news that has revealed the structural deficiencies of the World Health Organisation (WHO), one would believe the UN’s global health body would be interested in laying low on other issues that would make it unpopular. However, in some strange death wish, the WHO can’t help itself in getting back to what it wants to do most: regulate your consumer behaviour.

In a recent recommendation, the WHO called upon governments around the world to restrict the consumption of alcohol as it can lead to a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Europe marks the particular focus of the organisation, which considers that new restrictions during the lockdown are a prerequisite for public health. But the evidence that the experts could base themselves on is flimsy at best, as our knowledge of coronavirus is overall complicated, with control groups unlikely to be large, and none of the studies being peer-reviewed.

Other than that, the WHO conflates alcohol use immediately with alcohol abuse. Yes, in countries such as the United States, alcohol sales increased by 55% over a one-week span last month, according to market research firm Nielsen. However, this number is equally likely to be related to the wave of panic-buying consumers, and the fact responsible consumers are stocking up on wine or beer for their lunches and dinners. The overwhelming majority of consumers has an adult sense of how to handle booze, and the suggestion that they are in dire need of regulation is purely paternalistic.

In “The Case for Defunding the WHO” in July 2018, I argued on this very platform that the spending of this body is wasteful and their priorities are misplaced. The WHO has a history of coddling dictators: Director-General Tedros Adhanom was quick to name Zimbabwe’s long-time dictator Robert Mugabe a “Goodwill Ambassador” of WHO. Be it Turkey, which has heavily restricted the sale and advertising of alcohol, or Iran, where the sale of alcohol is completely illegal, the UN health body seems to take its policy clues from the most religiously inspired prohibitionists on the planet.

In a 2017 document, the WHO lauds a myriad of additional alcohol labelling examples.

While the world is battling the coronavirus crisis, the European Alcohol Policy Alliance (EUROCARE) is going after sports alcohol sponsorship in Scotland. In the press release from EUROCARE, the group says:

“Millions of people – including children and young people – are exposed to alcohol sponsorship. The evidence is clear that alcohol marketing exposure is a cause of binge drinking and drinking onset among young people. It also influences their attitudes and increases their likelihood of developing problems with alcohol later in life.”

Naturally, these activists are not referring to specific evidence that points to this phenomenon. With children at a young age picking up smoking, including cannabis – both not advertised in any way – points to the conclusion that sponsorship is hardly the origin of substance abuse.

In fact, when we look at this problem we quickly figure out that it is not sponsorship in sports, or sponsorship altogether that is the problem for these groups, but alcohol in itself. Kids have always been drawn to risky products. But these groups are the new prohibitionists, unable to contain themselves until they have banned every last drop of fun.

Ultimately, what sponsorship cannot be seen by children? Be it advertisement in public transport or bus stops, or any TV channel or radio show: children can technically hear and see all advertising that adults have access to. The channels that are children-only already don’t feature these ads and online portals such as YouTube allow for parental control that blocks all age-inappropriate pop-ups.

We should also stress that it should first and foremost be the obligations of parents to protect their children from harm, by educating them about appropriate and safe alcohol use. Delegating this responsibility to government agencies will culminate in an avalanche of bureaucracy that is not in the interest of consumer choice.

Banning ads in the name of protecting children is a backdoor to blatant bans on advertising for products altogether. Other vices are also at risk, as the press release also reveals:

“This research comes at a time when the place of gambling in sport has been called into question and we need to consider the propriety of linking any addictive and health-harming product with sport.”

The reality is this: consumers want products, and they want to safely enjoy vices such as alcohol. We should aim for responsible and educated consumers, as opposed to blatant patronising bans. Substance abuse is a real problem, yet we need to recognise that there are underlying problems that explain it, going beyond mere sponsorship.

Whether or not alcohol is advertised has no impact on unemployment or any other personal hardship that leads to excesses in alcohol use. These problems need solving through different educational and social institutions, and most importantly through improved personal relationships. We as a society have a responsibility to our friends and family, more than any governmental institution may proclaim to own.

Advertising plays an important role for consumers: it informs them about new and better products and allows for competition. Advertising is the extended arm of consumer choice, and ought to be protected.

Originally published here.

The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org

The value of packaging design goes beyond pretty pictures

The value of packaging design goes beyond pretty pictures says Fred Roeder

When people talk about the importance of design, people will often point to iconic logos and branding that we now take for granted, whether it’s the Coca Cola motif, Mr Pringles crisps or Jack Daniels bottles.

But the importance of design isn’t just in the design itself, but in the intellectual property behind the design and its intrinsic value to brand holders and consumers. Design cues provide information and knowledge around the products consumers buy and help to build confidence. Removing design elements simply limits an individual’s ability to make informed decisions about what they are buying.

Late last year, the outgoing UK Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, called on the government to threaten the food industry with ‘cigarette style’ plain packaging for sweets and chocolates if they failed to meet sugar reduction targets. Dame Sally called the for the sugar tax programme – already in place for soft drinks – to be extended to cereals, yogurts and cakes if targets are not met by 2021, and applied to calorie-rich foods by 2024.

Creative solutions

Dame Sally’s parting shot at the food, drink and retailing industry comes hot on the heels of the UK’s Food Ethics Council which also called for an outright ban on cartoon mascots on junk food, including fizzy drinks, crisps, cereals and biscuits, in a bid to curb obesity and diseases like diabetes

No one is denying that a there’s a sensible debate to be had around responsible consumption, but unproven laws are not the solution. Rather than scaring people into changing their behaviour or punishing their pockets through ‘sin taxes’ and brand censorship, legislators need to be more creative when it comes to promoting good health.

While it’s not yet government policy in the UK, it soon could be and it will be interesting to see if Chris Whitty, Dame Sally’s replacement, picks up the cudgel and continues to beat food and drink manufacturers, retailers and consumers into submission.

Lawmakers often take their lead from public health bodies like the Food Ethics Council and supranational organisations 13like the World Health Organisation, who just love to wield the ban hammer in the name of protecting public health.

It’s happening already with Ireland’s Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which became law in October 2018, regulating advertising and promotion, insisting on mandatory cancer warnings, and banning alcohol branding from sports stadiums.

Restricting marketing and communications in certain product categories and, in some cases, banning their availability altogether, will only serve to stifle innovation and violate consumer rights.

You only have to go back 100 years to the US bringing in the Volstead Act, which prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages, to know that banning something simply drives demand underground, fuelling criminality.

Freedom of choice

Unbranded goods provide a boon for organised crime gangs as the labels, packaging and containers are much easier to fake. Spurred on by the promise of enormous profits, the trade in unregulated illegal products represents a tempting proposition for counterfeiters, with huge costs to governments and the public alike. Therefore, the total damage to businesses affected is likely to be higher. Brand censorship will almost certainly lead to losses in the creative industries, including design and advertising services, which are heavily reliant on FMCG contracts.

Brand Finance estimates that the potential value loss to businesses worldwide would be $430.8bn if tobacco-style plain packaging were extended to the beverage industry. This refers to the loss of value derived specifically from brands and does not account for further potential losses resulting from changes in price and volume of the products sold, or illegal trade.

Compounding the issue is a complete lack of analysis-based dialogue between brand owners, consumers and regulators. IP laws and frameworks are positive examples of these groups working together to protect and enforce the interests of rights holders, whilst at the same time allowing consumers the freedom to make their own choices. Despite these efforts, the infringement of IP rights remains a significant problem. According to a 2019 OECD – EUIPO report, the total volume of trade in fakes was estimated at $509bn, or 3.3 per cent of global trade (up from 2.5 per cent in 2013).

The way forward

No brand has a God-given right to exist or survive. But the threat of restrictive business regulation and illegal trade will only serve to hasten their demise by undermining intellectual property rights and weakening their inherent value.

The Food Ethics Council and Public Health England are right to call for a debate on how we can make the country healthier, but the negative impact of limiting brands could wreak havoc in the packaging and creative industries, causing a major headache for big retailers, with no conclusive evidence that the policy will achieve the desired health objectives.

That is why closer collaboration and co-operation between policymakers and industry participants, and education over legislation, provides the best way forward. Instead of health warnings and brand censorship, we should use incentives and encouragement to change consumer behaviour.

Fred Roeder is the Managing Director of the Consumer Choice Center, an independent non-profit organisation, which promotes ‘consumer choice’ among different products, innovations and price classes. The Consumer Choice Center supports lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science and consumer choice. The CCC believes regulators on local, national and supranational levels keep regulating more and more areas of consumers’ lives. This leads to less consumer choice and makes products more expensive.

Originally published here.

The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org

“Think of the children!” – How Lancet researchers parodise themselves

The Lancet’s new “A Future for the World’s Children?” report is once again some heavy nanny-stating. But this time, it goes right into real-life parody, argues Bill Wirtz.

The once well respected, but increasingly loony Lancet has in recent years endorse some of the harshest Nanny State policies around. From advertising restrictions to taxation of sugary drinks, the Lancet has yet to find a paternalistic policy it doesn’t like. In its newest release, the medical journal is going after advertising to children, which it views as a major threat to children and young adolescents.

Lancet Editor-in-Chief Richard Horton recently told policy-makers in a press release that marketing for cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, alcohol, and junk food is increasingly worrying, and worsening public health concerns. This new report even calls for an optional protocol to be added to the U.N. Convention of the Rights of the Child that would mandate governments to regulate or ban marketing to children for things like sugary drinks and alcohol. “We are living in a fossil fuel-based, consumptive, production driven economy, which creates the conditions for harming the health of children”, Horton adds, saying that “I don’t think any of us can be happy that this is the world that we’re creating.”

The Lancet’s claim that companies are deliberately marketing unhealthy food and other vices to children is hard to grasp. Reading this, all readers are certainly questioning if tobacco companies are putting their cigarettes in strollers. Nothing of the sort has, obviously, happened so far.

Equally, the Lancet continues to condemn that children are subject to alcohol advertising during sports events. They’re referring to the fact that during interruptions of sports broadcasts, there are ads for beer or spirits, which are not only targeted towards adults, but are also accompanied with warning messages about the hazardous nature of these products. In essence, the researchers claim that any ad that could be seen by a child should not contain any risky products, which would, with the fringe exceptions of places such as 18+ cinema screenings, hit every single ad. Adding to that: from my own experience, I can say that sports events like football or motorsport would be something that as a child I would watch with my dad… who would drink a beer during the event. We should not over-inflate our perception of what advertising is really able to do.

In a piece for Comment Central in September, I had laid out why the ASA’s restrictions on certain advertising was equally patronising.

It is also thoroughly contradictory that the Lancet would argue against advertising for harm-reducing products such as e-cigarettes, notably since its own research in other areas of the world (such as New Zealand) shows that vaping has displaced youth cigarette smoking.

Overall, consumers shouldn’t be patronised by blanked advertising bans. There is a case to be made that children should be protected, and many services (such as the video-streaming platform YouTube) already offer browser-based parental controls. However, it is parents that need to play the biggest role in the education of children. Confronting and discussing advertising and the availability of potentially harmful products is a role of parents that they cannot fully or even confidently outsource to the State.

Following the advice of the Lancet would lead us down the path of overprotecting children, all while reducing the consumer choice and information of adult consumers.

Originally published here.

The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org

Ads are changing, and we should be happy about it

Shifting consumer behavior is changing the world of advertising as we know it, says Bill Wirtz. 

We have come along way in the evolution of the advertising business. The Egyptians used papyrus to make sales messages and wall posters, while the Middle Ages made us transition to town criers and billboards. But even trademarks are much older than many would think – the first trademark dates back to 1300 BC in what is India today. Advertising is simultaneously a reflection of reality and a gross over-exaggeration of consumer expectation – they are flashy, they are gross, they feature musicians and actors. Some ads are so entertaining that viewers tune in to watch them, and they generate massive clicks on video platforms such as YouTube.

Terrestrial TV is a good example of how some service have only been ad-funded for a long time already. With the popping up of online advertising we’ve seen entire newspapers switch gear on their business models. The Guardian – which isn’t exactly the defender of modern capitalism – raises more money online than it does through print. No wonder – online advertising is better for advertisers and consumers. Targeted advertising tells the company that posts the ad if it is actually viewed and clicked on – something that you cannot guarantee in any way on TV or radio. On the video platform YouTube, the company says that you only pay for your ad if people choose to watch it:

“For example, when someone chooses to view your TrueView ad for at least 30 seconds or engages with your ad – like clicking on a call-to-action overlay, a card or a companion banner.”

This certainly applies to myself: as a craft beer enthusiast, Google and Facebook ads constantly tell me about the latest beer releases. Why should I be upset? I get to use a free online service, and in return I get informed about products I like? It would be strange to claim that this is somehow worse than the old days, when I’d be shown things I don’t actually buy, such as women’s hygiene products, or new car tyres.

There is also a common assumption that advertising is a form of brainwashing, constantly bombarding is with things we don’t want until we end up buying it. It poses the ancient old question: can you make someone buy something that they do not want? The American legal scholar Cass Sunstein, who was Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs under the Obama administration published an essay entitled “Fifty Shades of Manipulation“, in which he labels conventional marketing as manipulation. He writes for instance: “It is important to acknowledge that in the commercial realm, manipulation is widespread; it is part of the basic enterprise.”

Yes, when companies advertise health benefits of their products that cannot be proven, then they are intentionally misleading their customers. However, this is miles away from advertising a product as being cool, refreshing, comfortable, or trendy. Are we to define the mere fact that a product is being described by the producer as “good”, as manipulation? Because by this same standard, I could feel equally manipulated by the fact that Sunstein calls a book he edited himself, “relevant” (which he did).

You couldn’t sell anyone a candle as a means of replacing electric bulbs, but you can advertise products in a positive fashion. Of course advertising works, otherwise there would be no point it. However, the assumption that it is bad having ad-based services, and online and offline users being exposed to them, that is retrograde thinking. Many careers, including those of free-lance journalists, have been made possible through modern advertising. Many consumers happier about having specific targeted ads online, as opposed to being bored by their TV.

Advertising is changing because we are changing as consumers.

Originally published here

Les publicités changent, et il faut s’en réjouir

En tant que consommateur, vous sentez-vous manipulé par la publicité ? Ou bien est-ce un moyen efficace, voire distrayant, de vous offrir ce que vous voulez ?

Nous avons fait des progrès dans l’évolution du secteur de la publicité. Les Egyptiens utilisaient le papyrus pour faire des messages de vente et des affiches murales, tandis que le Moyen Age nous faisait passer aux crieurs publics et aux panneaux publicitaires.

Même les marques de commerce sont plus anciennes que beaucoup ne le pensent. La première marque remonte à 1 300 av. J.-C., dans ce qui est l’Inde aujourd’hui.

La publicité est à la fois un reflet de la réalité et une exagération vulgaire des attentes des consommateurs : elles sont flashy, elles sont grossières, elles mettent en scène des musiciens et des acteurs. Certaines publicités sont tellement divertissantes que les téléspectateurs font en sorte de les regarder, et elles génèrent des clics massifs sur des plateformes vidéo telles que YouTube.

La télévision terrestre est un bon exemple de la manière dont certains services ne sont financés que par la publicité depuis longtemps.

Avec l’apparition de la publicité en ligne, nous avons vu des journaux entiers changer de modèle d’affaires. Le Guardian – qui n’est pas exactement le défenseur du capitalisme moderne au Royaume-Uni – recueille plus d’argent en ligne qu’en version imprimée. Pas étonnant, car la publicité en ligne est meilleure pour les annonceurs et les consommateurs.

La publicité ciblée indique à l’entreprise qui affiche l’annonce si elle est réellement visionnée et cliquée, quelque chose que vous ne pouvez garantir d’aucune façon à la télévision ou à la radio. Sur la plateforme vidéo YouTube, l’entreprise explique que vous ne payez votre annonce que si les gens choisissent de la regarder :

“Par exemple, lorsque quelqu’un choisit de visionner votre publicité TrueView pendant au moins 30 secondes ou s’engage avec votre publicité  comme cliquer sur un call-to-action overlay, une carte ou une bannière d’accompagnement.”

Cela s’applique certainement à moi-même : en tant qu’amateur de bière artisanale, les publicités Google et Facebook m’informent constamment sur les dernières sorties de bière. Pourquoi devrais-je m’énerver ? J’utilise un service en ligne gratuit, et en retour je suis informé des produits que j’aime.

Quelle manipulation ?

Il serait étrange de prétendre que c’est pire qu’autrefois, quand on me montrait des choses que je n’achète pas, comme des produits d’hygiène féminine ou des pneus de voiture neufs.

Il y a aussi une supposition commune que la publicité est une forme de lavage de cerveau, nous bombardant constamment avec des choses que nous ne voulons pas. Elle pose la vieille question : peut-on faire acheter à quelqu’un quelque chose qu’il ne veut pas acheter ?

Le juriste américain Cass Sunstein, qui était administrateur du Bureau de l’information et des affaires réglementaires sous l’administration Obama, a publié un essai intitulé “Fifty Shades of Manipulation“, dans lequel il qualifie le marketing conventionnel de manipulation. Il écrit par exemple :

“Il est important de reconnaître que dans le domaine commercial, la manipulation est répandue ; elle fait partie de l’entreprise de base.”

Oui, lorsque des entreprises font de la publicité sur des bienfaits pour la santé de leurs produits, qui ne peuvent être prouvés, elles induisent intentionnellement leurs clients en erreur. Cependant, c’est loin d’annoncer un produit comme étant cool, rafraîchissant, confortable ou à la mode.

Doit-on définir le simple fait qu’un produit est décrit par le producteur comme “bon”, comme une manipulation ? Car, selon ce même critère, je me sentais également manipulé par le fait que Sunstein qualifie un livre qu’il a lui-même édité de “pertinent” (ce qu’il a fait sur Twitter).

Vous ne pourriez vendre une bougie à personne pour remplacer les ampoules électriques, mais vous pouvez faire de la publicité positive pour vos produits. Bien sûr, la publicité fonctionne, sinon cela ne servirait à rien.

Cependant, l’hypothèse selon laquelle il est mauvais d’avoir des services basés sur la publicité est une pensée rétrograde. De nombreuses carrières, y compris celles de journalistes free-lance, ont été rendues possibles grâce à la publicité moderne. De nombreux consommateurs sont heureux d’avoir des publicités ciblées spécifiques en ligne plutôt que de s’ennuyer avec leur téléviseur.

La publicité change parce que nous changeons en tant que consommateurs.

Read more here

Onerous labeling laws harm consumers who want innovative meat alternatives

Yaël Ossowski
Deputy Director
Consumer Choice Center

Washington, D.C. – Earlier this month, Mississippi lawmakers passed onerous labeling laws that will prohibit meat-alternative products, such as veggie burgers and sausages, from using the word “meat” in their marketing and branding. This is part of a larger trend by politicians and industries to limit what consumers can know about the products they consume.

Yaël Ossowski, Deputy Director of the Consumer Choice Center (CCC), said “For years, consumers have demanded better tasting and more innovative meat alternatives, and entrepreneurs have delivered. The effort to stymie these innovations by forbidding the use of the word meat harms consumers who want more choice.

“By censoring what information and branding companies are able to use, consumers are left to guess what products they’re consuming, and what taste they’re due to expect.

“This is nothing more than an attempt to preemptively stop the innovative market of meat alternatives that environmentally conscious consumers want and demand. Brands matter, and labeling matters as well. Broader categories and more information are always better for consumers, and these laws to restrict this end up harming consumers,” said Ossowski. “That’s why the Consumer Choice Center launched the Brands Matter! initiative.

“Legislation like this is predicated on the idea that consumers are too dumb to understand the differences between meat and meat alternatives. Using legislation to bicker over nomenclature is ridiculous, and mirrors when the dairy industry lobbied against almond and soy beverages.

“Let’s let consumers choose,” concluded Ossowski.

*** Deputy Director Yaël Ossowski is available to speak with accredited media on consumer regulations and consumer choice issues.  Please send media inquiries HERE.***

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org.

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