Close-up: Live Issue - Acronyms proliferate as ASA becomes the one-stop shop

Consumer confidence will be key to justifying higher spending, John Tylee says.

The biggest change in advertising self-regulation in more than 40 years will be ushered in next week by a swish new logo and a bewildering array of initials.

The logo, an updated version of its familiar red tick, is to introduce the revamped Advertising Standards Authority, complete with a new and improved formula, to mark the extension of its remit from print ads, posters and direct mail to TV and radio.

But the ASA's extended role as a regulatory "one-stop shop", approved by Parliament earlier this year on the recommendation of Ofcom, also heralds the arrival of more watchdog organisations.

Advertisers and their agencies, which have barely got their heads around CAP (the Committee of Advertising Practice) and Asbof (the Advertising Standards Board of Finance) must now get used to BCAP and the AAC.

To the uninitiated, that's the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice, which will set the broadcast advertising codes, and the Advertising Advisory Committee, an independent group of lay people that will advise the BCAP.

Confused? Christopher Graham, the ASA's director-general, who will take charge of the superbody, claims the seeming complexity has one simple objective - to establish consumer confidence in the ASA as a credible regulator of all broadcast and non-broadcast advertising in the UK.

From 1 November, the ASA will have a single front door on which anybody with a gripe about a misleading or offensive ad can knock. This should end the current confusion that this year has resulted in more than 5,500 people who have tried to complain about a TV or radio ad being turned away by the ASA. In future, adjudications on all ads will be made by the ASA council.

It's in the back offices of the new-look ASA that things become more complicated. This is because the watchdog must not only police the self-regulation of non-broadcast advertising, as it has done since 1962. On top of that, it now acts on Ofcom's behalf as the statutory regulator of broadcast advertising as well. The BACC and the RACC will still carry out pre-vetting of TV and radio ads although both bodies move under the ASA's umbrella.

Graham isn't fazed by running two systems in tandem, each with specialist teams and separate funding streams. "If you can't ride two horses at the same time, you shouldn't be in the circus," he says.

Nevertheless, the ASA's new dual role will cost serious money. Its business plan is for £7 million. Most of it will be spent on increasing its staff from 76 to 107. The rest is funding the body's move from the offices off London's Tottenham Court Road, which it has occupied for 26 years, to a new 13,000 square-feet home in High Holborn.

All this is to be paid for by extending the Asbof levy on all non-broadcast advertising to cover TV and radio commercials as well. The ASA doesn't collect the cash directly and is never told how much an individual advertiser contributes, in order to preserve the body's impartiality.

That means yet another new set of initials. Basbof (the Broadcast Advertising Standards Board of Finance), which will administer the levy on broadcast airtime. Graham acknowledges there was a "bit of a hoo-ha" among some advertisers over the Basbof charge but claims that opposition has largely evaporated.

The first big test of the enlarged ASA's credibility is how it confronts the hot political issues of obesity and alcohol abuse. Food advertisers currently stand accused of literally living off the fat of the land, while some alcohol manufacturers have been under attack for thumbing their noses at advertising codes.

The Consumers' Association has already questioned the wisdom of Ofcom handing over control of the BCAP codes at a time of intense debate about the promotion of snack foods to children. Ofcom retains the power to order changes to the broadcast codes if necessary but has no control over the non-broadcast rules. This remains the province of the Office of Fair Trading, which can act against rogue advertisers who ignore ASA judgments.

Graham points out that it will be up to CAP and BCAP, both chaired by Andrew Brown, the Advertising Association's director-general, to set the rules. However, he believes the new system will ensure consistency over the interpretation of the codes covering print and TV.

And he is adamant that the ASA will not play to the gallery by taking a repressive line on food and drink ads. "We're going to be very customer-focused," he promises. "We're not going to crack down just to prove how tough we are."

All that remains is to get the "one-stop shop" message across to consumers. The ASA will be taking advantage of some donated TV airtime, although Graham says the body won't be "touting for business".

This is partly because the new system will need to bed down and partly because of what is expected to be a rise in complaints as consumers realise how easy it is to make their views known. At present, more than 40 per cent of complaints made to the ASA arrive by e-mail and executives want to drive the figure even higher.

"We've a lot to prove," Graham admits. "And the best way we can do that is by doing our job well." Simple, really.

Become a member of Campaign

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to, plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events.

Become a member

What is Campaign AI?

Our new premium service offering bespoke monitoring reports for your company.

Find out more

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an alert now

Partner content