A conversation about responsibility

What part do the creative industries play in one of the biggest health issues of our times – the obesity crisis? And is regulation the right answer? Labour’s Deputy Leader Tom Watson, Droga5’s Grace Francis and Pentagram’s Naresh Ramchandani address the thorny question of responsibility



“Advertising has contributed to making us a nation overweight, unhealthy and addicted to sugar – and the industry has got to play a part in getting us out of this mess,” Tom Watson MP declared in a speech at an Advertising Association conference earlier this year. In his speech, Labour’s Deputy Leader and Shadow Culture Secretary (who previously had a brief spell in advertising) challenged the industry to help find a way to make us a healthier nation.

It’s difficult to dismiss Watson’s searing assessment. After all, there are currently tens of thousands of children leaving primary school obese every year, according to the Local Government Association’s latest figures. It is also a deeply personal issue for the politician, who just two years ago weighed 22 stone and was one of the estimated four million people with diabetes currently living the UK.

Since then, Watson has lost over seven stone and reversed his diabetes diagnosis – largely thanks to a strict diet and exercise regime – and is currently setting up an independent commission into tackling obesity and stemming the rise of type 2 diabetes.

At a time when brand purpose is the biggest buzzword in adland, the obesity crisis and the industry’s role in it is something it is having to take more seriously than it has arguably done in the past. It’s certainly something that Grace Francis thinks about on a regular basis in her role as Chief Experience Officer at Droga5. “[While] everyone is making a TV advert, my team and I are able to say, ‘change the wrapper for this food’, or ‘make a vegan option’, because that’s what people are asking for,” she says.

A copywriter by trade, Naresh Ramchandani’s time is now split between his role as Partner at design agency Pentagram, and as co-founder of environmental non-profit Do The Green Thing.

Amid the madness of Brexit, client pitches and an (unlawfully) prorogued parliament, CR brought together Watson, Francis and Ramchandani over the phone to ask – and attempt to answer – some of the difficult questions around responsibility and regulation.