CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/ASA REVAMP - Industry regulator kicks off millennium makeover. Senior industry figures tell Jade Garrett what must be done to revitalise the ASA

Chris Graham, 100 days into his director-generalship of the Advertising Standards Authority, last week announced his action plan for the industry regulator.

Chris Graham, 100 days into his director-generalship of the

Advertising Standards Authority, last week announced his action plan for

the industry regulator.

In response to the ever-changing market forces, he has commissioned a

wide-ranging review of the ASA’s working methods which it is hoped will

help the body respond to complaints more quickly and meet the new

demands that are being created by the explosion in new media.

Here, key figures representing different aspects of the industry outline

their wishlist of changes to the body that always hits the headlines

with its decisions to sanction the likes of’s sexy poster

execution, which received the most complaints last year.

John O’Keeffe executive creative director of Bartle Bogle Hegarty

Er - they banned one of my ads once, so the Campaign Press award it was

up for got snatched away at the last moment. I didn’t like them much

that day. But, I suppose, BBH and the ASA get along most of the time

without upsetting each other.

If I’m honest I don’t know that much about it. How many of them are


Where do they live? Who appoints them or are they elected? If so, how

often? The answers to these and many other questions remain as elusive

to me as ever.

More importantly, do we need them? One could argue that, if a

publication accepts an agency’s ad, what right does a third party have

to intervene, especially as we have trade descriptions laws to stop

advertisers making false claims. But, on balance, I’d say the ASA does

perform a valuable function.

I’m always suspicious of large organisations with self-regulatory

powers. The Police Complaints Authority rarely comes up smelling of

roses, and look at the state of the British Medical Association. So I’d

like to congratulate Graham on his appointment and I look forward to his

’wide-ranging review’.

I hope it leads to an ASA whose members remain reasonable, open-minded

people, innately aware of societal shifts and the fluidity of the

cultural paradigm. Or, to put it another way, as long as they like South

Park and Father Ted, they are all right by me. It shouldn’t have banned

my ad though.

Ian Schooler head of brand communication at NatWest

It is only to be expected that any new director-general would want to

review the external perceptions and internal processes of his


This review is particularly necessary in the rapidly changing multimedia


But he starts from a position of strength. The ASA has performed well

over the years and the complaints about its decisions have been few and

far between. As a result, the ASA has helped ensure the system of

self-regulation which is world class. The secretariat approaches

complaints with diligence. Individual council members devote many hours

of study and debate to resolve cases that come to them.

Times are, however, changing. Advertising timescales, particularly in

electronic media, are becoming increasingly short. These new media fall

under the remit of the ASA. Streamlining and reshaping may well be

called for so that timing and decisions can cope at e-mail speed.

Prevention must be better than a cure and education initiatives planned

by the ASA are overdue. As the speed of process has increased over time,

society’s attitude towards acceptability has also shifted. There is a

generation of creative teams who know little of the current stance of

the ASA when they might be sailing too close to the wind in their

legitimate task of creating salient copy.

Teach-ins with agency staff are to be welcomed, but perhaps there is

also a need for the ASA to set out its stall in public.

Francis Goodwin managing director of marketing at Maiden Outdoor

The outdoor medium is a strong and vocal supporter of the ASA. Our most

recent joint development, the poster pre-vetting system for advertisers

who have fallen foul of ASA guidelines, is working well. There are,

however, three areas where the ASA could look to improve its


First,there could be a greater consistency and transparency in the

decision-making process. For example, the ASA upheld BOL’s use of nudity

in its posters, despite a relatively large number of complaints, but has

ruled against other advertisers where fewer complaints were


Similarly, there have been examples where advertisers, having received a

’green light’ from the copy advice team, have found themselves

subsequently criticised by the ASA, post publication.

Second, the ASA must differentiate between consumer complaints and

industry/competitor complaints. The debate over Ribena ToothKind is a

case in point. If the ASA is going to be more involved in these industry

complaints, it may need to develop a separate procedure to handle such


Third, the ASA needs to consider the issue of proportionality more than

it does. Our self-regulatory system is basically set up to police ad


To use the full panoply of its powers against a single poster appearing

outside a nightclub seems disproportionate.

On a more general note, the ASA could try to harmonise the different

approaches of the various regulatory bodies that police other parts of

the advertising business. As more advertisers embrace mixed-media

strategies, it must make sense to have similar standards and values

across all media.

Giles Crown head of legal and business affairs at TBWA GGT Simons


Sorry to be controversial but I think the ASA does a good job. Its

problems arise from the challenges of convergence and globalisation. The

same ad can now be published in the press or on WAP phones; broadcast on

the radio or over the net; appear on interactive TV or via a website.

This, together with the globally accessible nature of these media,

pan-jurisdictional marketing campaigns and increasing EU legislation,

means the concept of UK media-specific regulation seem out of date. What

is needed is a super-regulator along the lines proposed by the

Government for TV, telecommunications and the internet but also

incorporating the remainder of the ASA’s role, with ’sister’ regulators

in other member states.

This super-regulator could adopt a unified code, including

media-specific rules, reflecting fundamental principles of openness,

fairness and effectiveness.

An advertiser must be given an opportunity to comment on the entirety of

the information presented to the regulator.

For complaints involving significant factual disputes or of major

commercial significance, there should be a right to a short oral

hearing, with limited fines payable for serious breaches of the code.

Appeals on the regulator’s decisions to a wholly independent arbitrator

should be available, on payment of a fixed non-refundable fee.

And, finally, the ’Poster Pre-Vetting Procedure’ should be extended to

all non-broadcast ads and greater use made of interim procedures in

clear cases to stop unscrupulous advertisers taking advantage of the

inevitable delay between the appearance of an ad and the watchdog’s


Chris Graham director-general of the Advertising Standards Authority

Those who expected me to come in on day one and radically overhaul the

ASA may be disappointed. It ain’t broke. But there are changes to be

made: to develop the authority as a firm, fair, user-friendly and modern


Top priority is to ’re-connect’ with the industry. We should learn more

about the realities of business life, work closer with advertisers and

agencies at all levels. Prevention is better than cure - so, with the

Committee of Advertising Practice, we need to raise the profile of the

self-regulatory system across the industry. One extra call to the CAP

copy advice team could deliver more than ten extra ’upheld’ judgments by

the ASA.

But when complaints arrive - 12,000 last year and sure to rise as

broadband internet takes off - we must operate more efficiently and

effectively to handle them swiftly. A fundamental review of our formal

procedures and our methods of working is already under way.

We must not be left behind as the changes in technology and digital

communications transform advertising. I am not seeking to build an

empire but if changes in regulation follow the autumn White Paper, we

must be prepared.

The ASA has a fine reputation and I am proud of the organisation that I

have been asked to lead. At the same time, our stakeholders, whether

consumers, industry or government, have increasingly high expectations

of us - and we must not disappoint them. My 100 days of ’listening and

learning’ are over. Now it’s time to deliver.


’If a publication accepts an ad, what right does a third party have to



’The complaints about the ASA’s decisions have been few and far



’The ASA could try to harmonise the approaches of the various regulatory



’What is needed is a super-regulator incorporating the remainder of the

ASA’s role’


’Top priority is to re-connect with the industry. We should learn more

about the realities of business life’.