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 BOL.com’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
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
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
’Top priority is to re-connect with the industry. We should learn more
about the realities of business life’.