Applauding the voice of reason: Irwin inducted into TVNZ Marketing Hall of Fame

Jeremy Irwin has been the main man at the Association of New Zealand Advertisers (ANZA) for the past 15 years. And always having to take the side of advertisers and marketers means he’s fought—and won—plenty of ferocious battles with academics, politicians, special interest groups and other antagonists. He’s stepping back from the public policy coalface to focus on some well-deserved rose sniffing and, one week ahead of TVNZ-NZ Marketing awards night, Irwin was inducted into the TVNZ Marketing Hall of Fame in front of a 350-strong crowd at the Marketing Association’s Brainy Breakfast yesterday. Here’s what he told us about his long and esteemed career in the last issue of NZ Marketing.

On the early years: “I was with Shell Oil for 12 years, then with the Unilever food business, then with Coca-Cola-Schweppes. I was doing some consulting work after I finished with Coke and [radio legend]David Innes and I set up a consultancy business with the brilliant title of Innes-Irwin and Associates. ANZA, which was run out of Wellington at the time, wanted to move to Auckland, and said ‘how about consulting for us?’ I had some experience in change management, where you’d pull together two or three companies into one, so away we went. And that was 15 years ago.”

On fighting the unpopular corner: “A lot of the negative sentiment comes from academics who make a lot of money researching these things and objecting. Some of the NGOs also object and there’s one, you might say, professional complainer who, to be fair, keeps us honest … Some people don’t want that [constant confrontation]. It’s difficult. But I thrive on good challenges. And I’ve certainly had those. You need to be pretty stoic in this job. And you need a good team of other industry people working together towards the same end. It’s a fascinating industry, bloody good people, by and large, and it’s very satisfying when you can say you enjoyed your time and had some significant wins along the way.”

On responsible marketers: “We’re focused on promoting self-regulation and advertisers’ right to advertise their products and services openly. It’s the old adage, if it’s legal to sell, it should be legal to advertise. But we’ve had to work really hard on that with respective governments and their officials. Self-regulation has been successful in developing codes that are workable, usable and accepted, not only by advertisers and so on, but by the government, which has been involved in the development of those codes. Bottom line is, they’ve said we’ve got a self-regulatory process so you guys need to make sure it works. And if it doesn’t, they’ll regulate.

On food: “The food and obesity issue has been a major focus for us in the past ten years. There’s a lot of stuff coming out in the States at the moment on food where the manufacturers and advertisers are pushing hard up against what’s accepted and that will reverberate here. But the evidence is that obesity is being arrested, not just because of self-regulation, of course, but due to a variety of reasons, including more public awareness. I hate using this word, but marketers are getting ‘healthier’. And they’re not doing it because they have to, they’re doing it because there’s demand for it and they’re doing it well.”

On the booze: “Liquor is a very tricky one. There’s huge opposition from many quarters but we worked with the Law Commission to put our position forward and presented it to the government in the draft Alcohol Reform Bill. We can live with most of it, but not all of it. We wouldn’t want any restrictions beyond the current codes in advertising alcohol or any restrictions placed on sponsorship and promotion. The other main issue we have is the idea the minister would be able to enforce a regulatory regime if he didn’t think it was working. That’s giving far too much power to a minister. The industry needs to be consulted and having unilateral ability to do that is not on… There are those that try and flaunt the rules and aren’t members of ANZA, but they still have to abide by the codes. There are a few mavericks out there who push the boundaries, particularly on price and promotions. And the liquor reform bill will catch them out because it’s cracking down in these areas. As well as the advertising pre-vetting system, LAPS, we’ve also set up a separate pre-vetting system for sponsorship, labelling, packaging and branding so they can get it right.”

On drugs: “My other major achievement was getting the government to approve prescription medicine advertising in 1998. Aside from the US, New Zealand is the only other Western country that permits it. But we had a difficult time and there were disagreements from many quarters, something I’m well-accustomed to now. We had a vigorous meeting with all parties involved at Parliament House and managed to convince the minister at the time Tuariki Delamere to give us a six month trial and report back. We also offered to pre-vet all the advertising and that really won the day for us. Now media won’t accept any ads for products used for therapeutic medicine unless it has gone through the pre-vetting system.”

On punishment: “Removing an ad [after an ASA complaint is upheld]is a big incentive to stick to the rules. It’s quite a heavy, expensive penalty. And I think it’s heavy enough. We don’t want to get into a regime where there are fines involved. The cost of making or defending a complaint is huge in some European countries and in Australia in some areas. I realise there are some antagonists out there who want upheld complaints to include heavy fines, but that would really defeat the purpose of self-regulation, so I don’t think it will happen … We don’t want to get back into this nanny state business we were in previously. It doesn’t benefit anybody.”

On finishing up: “I’ll be living in Taupo and playing a bit more golf. If you’re running an organisation like ANZA as a one man band, which it was for 13 of the 15 years, you don’t get too much time to go and sniff the roses. So I’m looking forward to retiring but I still want to keep a positive hand in business, particularly if it’s advertising-related or in the field of public policy.”

The rest of the winners of the 2011 TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards will be announced at the awards night next Wednesday 24 August at The Langham. Ticket and table bookings can be made online at www.nzmarketingawards.co.nz


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