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
After all, didn’t 80 per cent of those questioned agree that complaints
to the ASA have the desired effect? What a surprise!