OPINION: ASA can’t help but try to maintain the status quo

Asking the British public if it objects to sex and smut in ads is like asking the Pope if he is against sin. You already know what the answer is going to be before you put the question.

Asking the British public if it objects to sex and smut in ads is

like asking the Pope if he is against sin. You already know what the

answer is going to be before you put the question.



So nobody should be greatly surprised or unduly alarmed at the results

of a new survey by the Advertising Standards Authority suggesting that

consumers are being overcome by a new puritanism.



The findings have brought the usual finger-wagging by the ASA, which is

again warning that the industry will push the creative boundaries beyond

the public’s tolerance at its peril.



It’s not that what the ASA is saying is untrue. But by repeating it so

often, the watchdog is in danger of crying wolf. Particularly when it’s

based on the dubious evidence thrown up by this research.



Nobody suggests the ASA has rigged the results. But the way the

questions were put was almost certain to produce the findings the ASA

wanted to hear. What better way to justify its existence than to keep

the bogeyman of statutory regulation alive?



Many people shown an ad containing sexually explicit images, bad

language or obscene gestures without knowing where those ads were being

shown would be likely to take offence. The Katharine Hamnett fashion

house is one advertiser that has expressed its concern that an ad

tailored for young, style-conscious readers of Arena magazine - and

which had a complaint against it rejected by the ASA - was shown to

respondents who were asked if they thought it suitable for billboards or

national newspapers. Of course they didn’t.



But fear not. The ASA is on hand to drive back the menace of rogue

advertisers.



After all, didn’t 80 per cent of those questioned agree that complaints

to the ASA have the desired effect? What a surprise!



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