Two headlines caught the eye this week. The obvious was the ban on junk food advertising announced by the TV regulator Ofcom. The other was the news from BMW that it plans to be the first manufacturer to market a top-of-the-range car powered by a zero-emissions hydrogen-fuelled engine.
The crackdown on TV advertisements for foods high in fat, salt and sugar during programmes intended for under-16s will have little direct effect on most of the eating-out market, as few restaurant and pub chains use TV advertising.
That, of course, isn’t the case for the fast food end of the industry. The likes of McDonalds, KFC and Dominos are directly in the firing line, and already the arguments have started over what is covered and ways of sidestepping the proposed rules.
Domino’s Pizza looks like it will be forced to end its successful sponsorship of The Simpsons on Sky One, but is said to be already planning alternative strategies, including shifting its emphasis to the internet.
Because the ban affects products not companies, the likes of McDonald’s will undoubtedly find new ways to promote its brand name on TV without mentioning burgers. Domino’s, too, may even look at selling and promoting salads and fresh fruit.
The truth is that this is but an early salvo in an ongoing battle over the healthiness of food and how it is portrayed, especially to children. The current culture is not about leaving the responsibility of choice to individuals; it is about trying to impose behavioural changes, and if necessary by legislation.
There is no evidence that this will change any time soon, and that’s why the TV ban has importance for the rest of the industry. Learning to adapt operational behaviour and predict future threats are becoming increasingly important business skills.
So to the importance of the BMW story. The motor industry giant expects to have its BMW Hydrogen 7 in production soon and before any of its rivals. It is powered by an engine delivering 300bhp but with exhaust pipe emissions that are mainly pure water vapour.
It is not just that senior executives will be able to buy a “green” car with status, though that will be important to many. It is about planning and anticipation.
BMW didn’t start thinking about the problems of climate-change and the effects of environmental issues on its business a few months ago. Its new baby is the result of years of development and having the foresight to start thinking about the future earlier rather than later.
Good businesses have a knack of staying ahead of changing public opinion and tastes - and in the process that often means staying ahead of government policy. Resourceful operators usually know more about consumer trends than politicians. That’s what gives them their competitive edge.
Peter Martin is founder of M&C Report and the Peach Factory