The Committee of Advertising Practice, which creates, reviews and
amends the British Codes of Advertising and Sales Promotion, ought to be
the logical port of call for agencies concerned about Advertising
Standards Authority interference.
The CAP's Copy Advice Service, which has spent 40 years covering
everything except television and radio, is, theoretically, just the
ticket to check if that line of copy is sailing rather too close to the
Unfortunately for the CAP, large sections of the industry have almost no
understanding of the body and its practices, which include
responsibility for deciding the codes of British advertising
Since it is an agency's responsibility to ensure its ads meet these
codes, it seems irrational and unhealthy that the CAP should have such a
So why is the Copy Service, which handled 12,500 enquiries last year,
not better known?
Hugh Burkitt, the chairman of Burkitt DDB, which has produced a campaign
to promote awareness of the service, believes it is because the ASA
takes the public role of bringing complaints to light and enforcing
Robert Campbell, the executive creative director of Rainey Kelly
Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, adds that changing employment practices have
diverted attention from the Codes.
"As the business has got faster and training is more patchy, a lot of
younger people in the business don't know where the boundaries lie,"
The Copy Service benefits are manifold, and while the CAP cannot approve
an ad, it can advise agencies.
"The key thing here is that prevention is better than cure," Guy Parker,
the secretary of the CAP, says. "You can save yourself the hassle and
inconvenience of potential commercial backlash."
The CAP points out that many ASA adjudications are about technical, or
relatively minor, breaches of the Codes, but that this can still lead to
an ad being withdrawn. With this in mind, the service does seem like a
logical headache-saver, especially when enquiries to the CAP are dealt
with immediately over the phone, while written enquiries are completed
within 24 hours.
Burkitt DDB's spoof campaign features agency faces such as Rupert Howell
and Campbell bemoaning the fact they hadn't sought its advice.
One execution talks directly to the creative contingent, saying: "A
tweak may be enough to prevent your award-winner being banned and
It seems the campaign is long overdue. Parker acknowledges that only a
small part of the industry is aware of the body.
"It's tended to be agency staff who have got an account that might take
them into contentious areas that use the service," he says, pointing to
car or drinks advertisers as likely candidates.
Getting the thumbs up from the CAP doesn't guarantee immunity against
further problems, especially from sister company the ASA.
"If it was always OK, it would be too cosy a relationship between the
ASA and the CAP," Parker asserts.
But if the CAP's advice doesn't stop the complaints, the ASA will still
acknowledge that copy advice has been sought.
"The ASA adjudication that comes out will be less damaging than it might
have been," Parker says.
And far from being a bunch of quasi-lawyers, CAP staff are qualified to
say whether ads are near the knuckle as they've worked previously on the
ASA, and have databases of ASA investigations in the past.
Burkitt hopes the campaign will do much to heighten awareness of the
CAP's service. Still, the peculiar fact remains that the service must
earn the trust of the advertising community before more people will use