Outgoing Chief Executive of the Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland (IAPI) Seán McCrave reflects on a struggling industry, and the potential impact of a ban on alcohol advertising, with Stephen Dineen.
As Seán McCrave prepares to leave the representative body for Ireland’s advertising companies after six years at the helm, he is philosophical. “I’ve been 30 years in business and it comes to a point where you just know it’s right to change” he tells eolas, believing he has achieved the goals with which he was tasked.
The sector he represents, which includes creative, media and digital agencies, has changed greatly since his arrival in 2006. Worth approximately €1 billion a year (including digital advertising, which was worth €64.9 million in the first half of 2011, but excluding ad production), the industry is currently experiencing a “dreadful” time. Rate card spend (excluding digital) in 2011 was €920 million, down €45 million on 2010. While Irish GDP declined 11.3 per cent between 2007 and 2010, “advertising is down at least 42 per cent” during the downturn, he explains.
“The State is the single biggest advertiser in our business, so once they stopped advertising our sector was hit hugely, and that’s the problem.” In his opinion, it needs to “lead by example”, by advertising and to “start informing people.”
A lot of clients have moved their marketing and advertising decision making back to the UK, which means that fewer of the ads we see or hear are produced in Ireland.
Multi-national brands, however, have continued to advertise throughout the downturn, to retain or grow market share, and are benefiting from the current climate. The media is “so desperate for ads that the price has dropped, and those who are advertising are getting fantastic deals.”
Advertising has also experienced a change in composition with the rise of digital media. While IAPI is currently working with Nielsen (a media monitoring company) to measure digital advertising’s share of the market, “one would have to assume we lag behind our UK colleagues.” He estimates “close to 20 per cent” of all advertising spend in Ireland is digital advertising, higher than IAB Ireland’s figure of 13 per cent for the first half of 2011. McCrave predicts over €150 million will be spent on online advertising this year.
Social media is “blurring the lines” between traditional advertising and PR. An example is companies using outlets like facebook to advertise. “When does that change from being an advertising vehicle to a PR vehicle?” he asks.
While there are more online publications, print media in general is not making enough money, McCrave believes. People are “reading less newsprint, but they’re still reading an awful lot.”
All advertising media (i.e. TV, radio, newspapers, digital and posters) have their purpose, according to the applied mathematics graduate from County Louth. While digital media is increasing in popularity, there are still many who would prefer “the more convenient media of magazine or print”, where they can “take their time to read it.”
Ultimately, “there’s always a finite marketing budget, it’s just who gets the share of that budget.”
McCrave and his colleagues are engaged in the current debate on the boundaries of alcohol advertising. The national substance misuse strategy, published in February, calls for a ban on drinks companies’ sponsorship of sporting and large, outdoor events and outdoor advertising of alcohol (see pages 68-69).
“Drink is ubiquitous in this country,” he admits. “What we have to do is educate and move away from that, make us more sociable,” he contends.
However, bans “don’t work”, McCrave argues. If a ban on alcohol advertising was introduced it would mean “a lack of revenue going into Irish media and agencies.” It is this funding that has allowed Irish television channels to produce documentaries such as those on alcohol abuse in Ireland, he claims.
McCrave contends: “If it really is as harmful as people say it is then ban the product. Stop beating around the bush with advertising and paying lip service to it.”
IAPI hasn’t had “a single complaint” about alcohol ads “in years” because they are pre-vetted by Central Copy Clearance Ireland (CCCI). This procedure was introduced in 2003 to ensure ads comply with the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI) and Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) codes and is paid for by the brand owners.
If a ban on alcohol advertising is introduced “the money will move, it’s as simple as that, but you’re not going to cure the problem.” Alternative outlets for the money will include sales or price promotions, he says.
Public information campaigns should be considered instead of bans, McCrave continues. He points to the “attitudinal change” towards drink-driving, saying: “People will not get into the car now with people who’ve been drink-driving.”
He believes the public have a choice and should be encouraged to drink safely through “proper education marketing.”
Banning tobacco advertising has been less successful, he claims. A significant proportion of Irish people still smoke (estimated at 29 per cent), all cigarettes are now imported and he says there is “a huge problem of illegal importation”.
As for the industry’s future, the ASAI codes need to be updated “because of the growth in new media.” While the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland’s upcoming revised children’s advertising code “should have some impact” McCrave urges the Government to work with the advertising industry to come up with a solution other than banning certain ads such as that mooted for cheese.
Profile: Seán McCrave
Married with two daughters, his hobbies include golf, reading, current affairs and charity work. McCrave now hopes to do more work in the area of education, advocacy and mentoring young people. “It’s getting back to selling,” he explains, “but not the hard sell, because those days are long gone. You have to do it differently now. It’s teaching people the skills that are needed, and the biggest skill of all is to listen.”
Tags: A struggling industry