EDITORIAL: ASA becomes a fall-guy in political ads comedy

By CAROLINE MARSHALL, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 12 September 1997 12:00AM

One of the many things that mystify us about the advertising industry is the apparently arbitrary nature of some of the ’rules’ that govern it. We’ve discussed at length the issue of car advertising following the Independent Television Commission’s statement earlier this year. This time round it’s the Advertising Standards Authority’s stance on political advertising - or proposed lack of one (Campaign, last week).

One of the many things that mystify us about the advertising

industry is the apparently arbitrary nature of some of the ’rules’ that

govern it. We’ve discussed at length the issue of car advertising

following the Independent Television Commission’s statement earlier this

year. This time round it’s the Advertising Standards Authority’s stance

on political advertising - or proposed lack of one (Campaign, last

week).



Political advertising has long been treated differently from more

’commercial’ ads, presumably on the basis that the ASA believed it could

not force political parties to prove their advertising claims, and was

therefore content to limit itself to matters of taste, decency and

privacy. The flaws in this approach became only too apparent during the

election campaign and especially in connection with the M&C Saatchi

’demon eyes’ affair, which involved the apparent, if not actual,

flouting of ASA adjudications.



Why shouldn’t political parties have to justify their claims? Is it that

they’re so outlandish that it is impossible to judge one way or

another?



This is the most feeble reason imaginable. Isn’t the answer to force the

parties to be less outlandish and more accountable, rather than abdicate

responsibility and, as the proposal suggests, to treat political

advertising as propaganda and place it outside the ASA’s

jurisdiction?



The implication in a proposal such as this is that it’s just too

difficult to make the judgments. But is it really any more difficult

than the complexities surrounding the marketing of over-the-counter

drugs? And what about areas like the advertising of banking, pensions

and insurance? Is it really harder to verify claims about unemployment

statistics than it is to check competitive interest rate levels?



Explaining that it is the Committee of Advertising Practice that is

drawing up the proposed rule changes; then explaining the relationship

between the CAP and the ASA and the Broadcast Advertising Clearance

Centre and the ITC will only leave anyone outside the industry

hopelessly befuddled and occasionally amused. Only it won’t be funny if

the parties now choose to stay in the system and the next row occurs, or

if they opt out and the industry has to admit it has no control. It

might be a farcical situation, but no-one should be laughing.



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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