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London tube adverts blink out a positive message

Prasun Sonwalkar/London
Filed on September 30, 2021
Reuters file photo

Advertising on the Tube guarantees high visibility to millions of passengers every day

Sadiq Khan, the London-born mayor whose parents migrated from Pakistan in the 1960s, is the chair of Transport for London (TfL), the local government body that manages the Tube and other transport services across the capital. A senior figure in the Labour party, Khan, 50, was first elected to the mayoralty in 2016 and re-elected for another term in May this year. The key role in the capital ensures a high media profile for the incumbent, often featuring in initiatives across the vast transport network and other areas.

But one area that has seen a distinct impact of Khan’s vision is in advertising on the Tube and across the TfL networks, which is considered to be the ‘most valuable out-of-home advertising estate in the world’, guaranteeing high visibility to millions of passengers every day as they move through the corridors, waiting for trains, or in spaces inside the carriages. One of his first acts after assuming office was to encourage more positive advertising campaigns and banned adverts on the network that could pressure women to conform to an unrealistic or unhealthy body shape, particularly among young people.

Secondly, he banned junk food advertising as part of measures to help tackle child obesity. The ban followed a public consultation that found overwhelming support from Londoners, covering all adverts for food and non-alcoholic drinks high in fat, salt and/or sugar and considered ‘less healthy’ under public health guidelines. Examples of products not accepted are sugary drinks, cheeseburgers, chocolate bars and salted nuts, while unsalted nuts, raisins and sugar free drinks would be accepted. Food and drink brands, restaurants, takeaways and delivery services are able to place adverts which promote their healthier products, rather than simply publicising brands. London is estimated to have one of the highest child overweight and obesity rates in Europe, with almost 40 per cent of the capital’s children aged 10 and 11 overweight or obese.

Khan says: “Child obesity is putting the lives of young Londoners at risk and placing huge pressure on our already strained health service. It is absolutely imperative that we take tough action against this ticking time bomb now, and reducing exposure to junk food advertising has a role to play in this — not just for children, but parents, families and carers who buy food and prepare meals. It’s clear that advertising plays a huge part in the choices we make, whether we realise it or not, and Londoners have shown overwhelming support for a ban on adverts for junk food and drink on our transport network. It’s completely unacceptable that in a city as prosperous as London, where you live and the amount you earn can have a massive impact on whether you have access to healthy, nutritious food. I’m determined to change this.”

Another initiative that found much support is a ‘Women We See’ competition to better represent the diverse capital’s women in advertising. The winner, ‘Me.No.Pause’ campaign, seeks to address the stigma of menopause across the network. The competition challenging advertisers to move away from harmful gender stereotypes was launched to encourage advertisers to create more positive and inclusive campaigns, after research carried out by University College London revealed that Londoners did not feel represented by most of the adverts they saw around the capital. The winning entry by Holland & Barrett was awarded £500,000-worth of prominent advertising space across the TfL network, while Mothercare, the runner-up with a campaign celebrating mothers, also received a prize of £50,000 worth of digital advertising space.

Heidi Alexander, London’s deputy mayor for Transport, says: “London’s diversity is our greatest strength, so it is important that we challenge the disparity between the way women are represented in adverts and the women we see around us every day in the capital. The Me.No.Pause campaign is a positive and empowering message that shows the brand’s commitment to capturing the diversity of the women in our city. I’d also like to say well done to runner-up Mothercare for their fantastic campaign. We want the campaign launch to encourage other brands to tackle the way we represent women in advertising, ensuring that women at the heart of London’s success, are given the representation they deserve.”

(Prasun is a journalist based in London. He tweets @PrasunSonwalkar.)





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