PERSPECTIVE: ASA should judge before the public becomes the jury

So, we’re sitting in the dark, judging the 1997 Campaign poster awards, generally agreeing that it’s a vintage year and that the medium is the hottest around in terms of creative standards. I can’t list the brilliant work because that would give away the winners. However, we can talk about ’fcuk fashion’, because we emerged blinking into the sunlight to discover the Advertising Standards Authority had upheld the nine complaints against it from members of the public who had spotted astutely that the line might be a play on the word ’fuck’. As you will all know, this means instant disqualification from Campaign awards.

So, we’re sitting in the dark, judging the 1997 Campaign poster

awards, generally agreeing that it’s a vintage year and that the medium

is the hottest around in terms of creative standards. I can’t list the

brilliant work because that would give away the winners. However, we can

talk about ’fcuk fashion’, because we emerged blinking into the sunlight

to discover the Advertising Standards Authority had upheld the nine

complaints against it from members of the public who had spotted

astutely that the line might be a play on the word ’fuck’. As you will

all know, this means instant disqualification from Campaign awards.



Whether ’fcuk fashion’ would have won is not really the point. We did

spend a great deal of time discussing it as among the more noticeable

and intriguing of poster campaigns over the past 12 months. Whether this

was because we had read about the posters in the press or seen them in

the flesh is also irrelevant - exploiting this symbiotic relationship

between advertising executions and editorial coverage is one of the

challenges of advertising in the 90s.



To me, the most thought-provoking issue of the whole affair is the ASA’s

role - yet again - in promoting an ’unsuitable’ message that it is, in

theory, there to protect us from.



I’m sorry to adopt my curmudgeon-at-the-party guise yet again but, amid

the current general love-in to celebrate the ASA’s 35th birthday, should

there not be time to contemplate its role in furores such as this and

Benetton, Club 18-30 and Wonderbra? How consciously, one wonders, are

creative teams sitting there devising work that will, eventually, fall

foul of the ASA? That is, once the posters have been up long enough to

attract press outrage at their content, and breathless articles asking

how the ASA let them by (conveniently ignoring the fact that print ads

aren’t pre-vetted). When, a month or so later, the press reports that

the ASA has judged against the offending ads, client and agency enjoy

yet another burst of publicity and the posters can come down having

reached the end of their paid-for life anyway.



I’m not trying to knock the ASA, honest. If anything, I’d like to see

its powers extended to include some sort of pre-vetting function or, at

the very least, have some genuinely punitive measures at its disposal to

deal with offenders. I know this is at odds with the views of many in

the industry, who have enough problems as it is with the Broadcast

Advertising Clearance Centre, but I don’t feel that it is at odds with

the views of the general public. They assume - wrongly - that such

mechanisms already exist. As for our new Government - there aren’t many

votes to be lost in imposing legislation on the ad industry. Adland

alone will be surprised when it happens.



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