From The Editor

There is a new business prospect whose spending level increased some 35 percent in 1996 over ’95. Its budget, by all indications, will be close to $1 billion next year. That client is us.
Technically, the majority of us aren’t the ones deciding how or where the budget is spent. But if you pay taxes, you contribute to the Treasury. Thanks to democracy, you are the client.
Competitive Media Reporting’s government classification accounted for about $540 million in media expenditures in ’96. That was up from an estimated $400 million spent in ’95, which, in turn, was up 21 percent over ’94. CMR’s tally includes state lottery budgets, the federal government and the post office. In the first seven months of ’97, the government spent about $265 million, per CMR. Wait till next year.
Congress has approved a $178 million budget to be spent buying prime media time for an anti-drug effort in ’98. (As part of that agreement, matching funds will be sought from the media. Theoretically, some $360 million worth of media time will be committed to the effort.) Over the next five years, $1 billion has been earmarked for buying media for the government’s anti-drug initiative. Porter/Novelli, Washington, D.C., will draft the request for proposal for the buying service review.
In addition, the U.S. Census Bureau recently awarded a new $100 million account, to be spent over four years, to Young & Rubicam. And don’t forget there is $200 million sitting in an escrow account for Florida, some of which is earmarked for an anti-smoking advertising initiative. Depending on how, when and if the “tobacco settlement” is settled, other states or the federal government could be in line for hundred of millions more. That’s a lot of potential new business for agencies and buying services, or at least for those not currently taking money from a cigarette company or its parent.
Of course, the government doesn’t need to persuade the public to do things. When enough people deemed alcohol a problem, we had prohibition, as Anheuser-Busch’s latest campaign reminds us. The government can draft recruits instead of coaxing enlistment. It can make the sale and use of tobacco illegal. Who knows what encouraging us to play the lottery does to gambling addicts? Clearly, dictating behavior can be dangerous.
Yet after years of riling advertisers and marketers with the threat of ad taxes, limiting deductibility for advertising and attempting to censor images and messages in commercials, the government is becoming a bigger client. The government has always known the power of persuasion. Now, it desires to harness it for greater societal good.
If advertising can keep someone from dying of lung cancer or another form of the disease in the future, that’s a good thing. So is the promise of new business for agencies and the inherent recognition of the effectiveness of their craft.
The dark side: Who will regulate the government, a billion-dollar client, if it becomes a problem? The Feds don’t want us to smoke, fine. But tax dollars are legislating social behavior. Who will decide if these efforts support positive causes or take on the trappings of propaganda and social programming? Hardly something this client wants. -Kevin McCormack