Academy of Ideas

Advertising: all-powerful or over-rated?

November 23, 2018

On Friday 23 November, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, announced a ban on adverts for junk food on London's transport network. Posters for food and drink high in fat, salt and sugar will disappear from the Underground, Overground, buses and bus shelters. But just how effective is advertising? That was the topic of this debate at the Battle of Ideas 2018 festival, produced in partnership with Diageo. (More details here.)


Advertising has become a familiar target of hostile campaigners. Public health campaigners and quangos want bans or restrictions on adverts for foods and drinks that are high in sugar, salt or fat. Campaigns around alcohol, gambling and ‘payday’ loans demand bans on the promotion of these activities. Others seek to suppress adverts featuring models who are excessively thin – or, indeed, models who are overweight. Why are all these campaigners so convinced by the manipulative power of advertising? What is the evidence that advertising can control behaviour? Can it really do any more than influence consumers to choose one brand over another?


communications specialist and PR lecturer; co-author, Radical Blake

research director, Centre for the Analysis of Social Media, Demos; author, The Death of the Gods: the new global power grab

head of lifestyle economics, Institute of Economic Affairs; editor, Nanny State Index; author, Selfishness, Greed and Capitalism

director, Best Interests Ltd