Friday, 29 July 2011

Tobacco Advertising and Classical Music

I'm always surprised when I find a full page advertisement for a tobacco company in a programme for a classical concert. It's just not the sort of thing that you find in popular culture any more. Legal restrictions these days mean that tobacco companies are denied visibility in most public forums. Plenty of people still smoke though, so presumably the companies have significant advertising budgets, which gets funnelled into the few remaining media outlets left open to them.
It should be said the sponsorship of classical music tends to be in promotion of the corporate identity of the tobacco company rather than its products. Also, there is only one tobacco company, to my knowledge at least, who sponsor classical music in the UK – British American Tobacco. They always take out a full page in the Glyndebourne programme though, and I'd imagine that doesn’t come cheap.
So what are we to make of this state of affairs? Should audiences protest on the grounds that these companies are evil? To be honest, I'd be more inclined to protest on those grounds against the Daily Mail ad that also makes an annual appearance in the Glyndebourne programme. And it could be worse, the Australian Chamber Orchestra accepts sponsorship from the BNP, although on closer investigation this turns out to be the name of an Australian investment bank, with no obvious connections to the British far right.
It seems churlish to deny classical music organisations this presumably lucrative funding source on admittedly tenuous ethical grounds. That's especially true of Glyndebourne, whose continued ability to balance the books in the absence of state subsidy is a minor miracle. What concerns me more is the fact that classical audiences are considered mature enough not to need Government protection from the evils of tobacco advertising. The implication is that there isn't a single person in the audience under the age of 16, or whatever the legal age for buying tobacco is these days. No doubt the BAT money is welcome in an orchestra's finance section, but it must feel like an admission of failure in the education department.

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