Anti-tie brigade could learn a thing or two from beer duty campaign

By Pete Brown

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Duty escalator, Tennis

Brown: "We’ll only ever achieve action on anything by being single-minded"
Brown: "We’ll only ever achieve action on anything by being single-minded"
When I worked in advertising, my life was full of smug aphorisms and parables. Creative directors especially loved to throw out comments that seemed unarguable, and then sit back like some coke-fuelled Buddha and watch you squirm.

The ones that were most annoying were those that proved to be right.

A favourite was the one about the tennis ball. If I throw a tennis ball to you, chances are you’ll catch it almost every time. But if I throw five or six at you at once, you probably won’t catch any of them.

The point was about messages in ads and what you hoped the viewer would take away. Every time a young executive walked into a creative director’s office and said the client wanted an ad that talked about how well the thing was made, but also wanted to include its really cheap price and a special offer next bank holiday and the brand new limited edition purple variant, they would have tennis balls thrown at them — sometimes literally.  

Communicate one message effectively, and people stand a chance of getting it.

Our industry’s current struggle against the various injustices facing it remind me of this on a daily basis.

One of the best things that happened this year was the way various disparate bodies throughout our industry came together and spoke with one voice in a campaign against the duty escalator.  

It worked — we got the debate in Parliament, and while the Treasury has cynically and undemocratically ignored the calls from 105,000 citizens and 100 MPs to review the escalator, the process succeeded in shifting the argument. Most importantly, national media got behind our cause. 

 In the past couple of weeks, The Sun has run at least two large features on the injustice of the escalator. In the world of real politics, this is worth more than a debate. Love or loathe the paper (I despise it, personally) it is a powerful force — it’s the reason the petition against the so-called ‘pasty tax’ got so many more signatures so much more quickly than our petition against the duty escalator. 
But every time I write about the campaign or mention it in social media, someone pops up and says we shouldn’t be talking about that, we should be talking about the pub company tie instead.

Admittedly it’s a difficult situation, having so many different problems to protest against. But we’ll only ever achieve action on anything by being single-minded.  

I have shied away from writing about the tie up to now, partly for this reason, and partly because I find it a bit daunting.  

You need two things to make an effective campaign (apart from the clear and single-minded message).  

Firstly, you need people to like you and sympathise with your point of view. Some of the people who campaign against the pub tie can come across as a bit strident. Not everyone — there are some great people, too. But there is a lot of anger around the issue and if it hits you full on, it can be off-putting.

Secondly, you need some solid hooks to get people with. The duty escalator campaign was much improved in this respect with its line about the UK drinking 13% of Europe’s beer and paying 40% of the tax, and the stat about the 42% duty rise in four years.
I haven’t yet seen anything similar from the Fair Pint campaign. What would be genuinely interesting and effective, for example, would be a figure comparing the rate of closure of pubs owned by big pub companies and that among freehouses. If you can prove big pubco pubs are failing at a much faster rate, you’ve got a real story and something the pub companies would be forced to respond to.  

If such information does exist, I’ve never been made aware of it.

I am not in favour of a total eradication of the tie, but it does clearly need to be reformed. I simply don’t understand why the Project William model devised by Everards has not become much more widespread in the UK, for example.

But I hate to see pubs closing — so does almost everyone else in Britain.  If the campaign against the tie can learn some lessons about clear and effective communication, and figure out how to work in a complementary way with the other issue facing pubs, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t gain much wider support and lead to some real action.

Related topics: Beer

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