A view from Maisie McCabe

Mired in frivolity, ASA can serve a higher purpose

The headlines following the chief executive of the Advertising Standards Authority’s speech at the ISBA conference last week focused on his comments on vlogging.

That is no surprise. Zoella, Alfie Deyes and PewDiePie have got used to the spotlight over the past year as grown-ups around the world discover their existence and the extraordinary influence they have over their young audiences.

But the plans Guy Parker outlined are much more than an attempt to stop biscuit companies from slyly selling their wares through pointless blogs. The vlogging proposals form part of new "prioritisation principles". The watchdog wants to spend less time ruling on which orchestra is the oldest or who is the most successful Scottish football club, and more on issues that could cause real harm.

Long-running squabbles between corporate rivals make for good headlines and easy copy for , but it’s hardly a productive use of the ASA’s time. I’d also argue that there are better things for the parties in question to spend their money on. But I’m sure they have their reasons (and let’s hope they’re not as petty as they can sometimes seem).

The ASA wants to spend less time ruling on which is the oldest orchestra and more on issues causing real harm

The new priorities mean that the ASA is going to spend more time thinking about what harm any ad it is considering has caused or could cause. It will then weigh up the potential repercussions of both intervening and letting the ad stand. Finally, the ASA will decide what resource would be appropriate.

It all sounds very sensible. These priorities will enable the ASA to spend more time protecting communities less likely to complain, such as lower economic groups in the regions, who are underrepresented among the complainants. The ASA is also going to work to bring the varied international advertising initiatives such as the EU Pledge into the fold and make sure it is responding to society’s concerns about advertising with evidence-based research.

As has been said before, the backdrop to all this is that trust in advertising is declining at the very time people are demanding more from businesses. Advertising must be more than just legal, honest and truthful. The public wants to be able to choose ethical companies and call bad practice out.

By making sure it is spending more time policing advertising and marketing that could have a detrimental effect on people, the ASA will improve their experience of it.

The new democratisation of media turned out great for #DancingMan, who is looking forward to revelry in Los Angeles with Pharrell Williams. If the industry plays it right, maybe all of us can have a happy ending.

maisie.mccabe@haymarket.com           
@maisiemccabe

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